A healthy diet can help beat depression

February 9, 2017 Providence Health Team

You know the usual reasons nutritionists encourage you to cut down on sugary drinks and processed foods, and eat vegetables, fruit, fish, whole grains and nuts instead. They say you should do it to reach a healthy weight, take care of your heart and lower your risk of certain cancers, diabetes and other diseases.

Now you can add another reasons: A healthier diet can help relieve depression.

An Australian study has shown “significantly greater improvement” in depression symptoms for people on healthy diets than for those whose treatment didn’t include nutritional counseling and a better diet.

"We've known for some time that there is a clear association between the quality of people’s diets and their risk for depression," said Professor Felice Jacka, leader of the study and director of the Food and Mood Centre at Australia’s Deakin University. "However, this is the first randomized controlled trial to directly test whether improving diet quality can actually treat clinical depression."

Why the diet-depression connection is important

Jacka and her colleagues at the Food and Mood Centre say a poor diet has consequences for the immune system and the brain.

“If we do not consume enough nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish etc., this can lead to insufficiencies in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, and this has a detrimental impact on our immune system as well as affecting gene expression, gut microbiota and other aspects of physical and mental health,” they say.

Depression is a common mental disorder that is characterized by:

  • Sadness
  • Feelings of guilt or low self-worth
  • Tiredness
  • Inability to concentrate

It can interfere with a person’s ability to work or manage daily life. In severe cases, it can lead to suicide.

Research has found that only about half of Americans who are diagnosed with major depression in a given year receive treatment, and even fewer receive treatment that matches current practice guidelines, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

That’s why, Jacka said, “new treatment options for depression are urgently needed.” She said improving a depressed person’s diet can be an important part of treating the illness.

Elements of a healthy diet

Subjects in the study who received “dietary intervention” got counseling urging them to adopt a diet created by two of the researchers. It consisted of:

  • Five to eight servings of whole grains per day
  • Six servings of vegetables per day
  • Three servings of fruit per day
  • Three to four servings of legumes per week
  • Two to three servings of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods per day
  • One serving raw, unsalted nuts per day
  • Two servings of fish per week
  • Three to four servings of lean red meats per week
  • Two to three servings of chicken per week
  • Up to six eggs per week
  • Three tablespoons of olive oil per day

At the same time, participants reduced their intake of “extra” foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, sugary drinks and more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day.

Do you wonder about the healthiness of your diet? You can find out quickly how the foods you eat stack up in terms of calories, fat and protein. Check out Nutrition Facts in the Providence Health Library. You’ll also find Healthy Recipes, information about herbs, vitamins and supplements and other resources.

Have you successfully moved from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one? Share your story and tips in our comment section.

Previous Article
9 Valentine’s Day treats your kids will love
9 Valentine’s Day treats your kids will love

Healthy does not mean boring!

Next Article
From the heart: A friend’s journey from heart failure to recovery
From the heart: A friend’s journey from heart failure to recovery

When his heart failed, Dave wondered if it was caused by stress and if he’d ignored the symptoms for too long.