Can Diet Affect Depression Symptoms?

Updated February 5, 2020

raw salmon and other healthy foods

We all know we should eat healthy to stay in shape and live longer. But research is suggesting that our diet could actually play a role in our mental health as well.

In fact, studies suggest following the Mediterranean diet, specifically, could go so far as to help relieve symptoms of depression.

There’s already been research stacking up for the Mediterranean diet for other reasons. From memory improvement to heart health, this diet has been gaining quite a following.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Where a Western diet is focused on red meat, saturated fats, and limited produce, the Mediterranean diet is plant based. It focuses on vegetables and fruits, legumes and whole grains to make up the bulk of most meals; seafood and poultry take the place of red meat, and any dairy should be minimal and low fat.

The Mediterranean diet also differs in more subtle ways, but these subtleties are no less important. For instance, where Westerners typically use butter and salt for flavor, Mediterranean natives use olive oil, herbs and spices.

Diet and Brain Health

Additionally, seafood is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be important for brain health. This diet is also rich in fiber and antioxidants, which scientists believe to be linked to lowering inflammation in the body.

Experts think this combination of fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants could aid in preserving proteins found in the brain – these proteins could be a major help in defending against depression.

Another factor to consider is something called the gut-brain axis. More and more research is supporting the idea that our gut and brain are closely connected, both physically and chemically. So much so, that our stomachs are referred to as our “second brain” by some scientists.

You may have heard of somthing called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit signals across synapses in the brain. However, neurotransmitters aren’t just produced in the brain. Many neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are also produced by the microbes living in our gut.

Some research suggests that maintaining a healthy gut biome could be a significant factor in mental and brain health.

These findings may even help explain why there’s a disproportionate amount of people grappling with a mood disorder, like anxiety or depression, along with digestive issues.

Mediterranean Diet Grocery List

So how do you get started with a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet? CookingLight.com has put together a suggested shopping list to help you start on the right foot. Once your pantry is stocked, visit our Pinterest board full of Mediterranean dinner ideas to put it all together.

Vegetable Ideas

  1. Kale, Swiss chard, arugula
  2. Leeks, onions, shallots, garlic
  3. Radishes, beets, carrots
  4. Sweet potatoes
  5. Cucumbers
  6. Artichokes
  7. Fennel
  8. Eggplant
  9. Peppers

Protein Ideas

  1. Canned tuna, salmon, or anchovies
  2. Fresh, wild-caught salmon or mackerel, oysters, mussels
  3. Eggs
  4. Lean game meats such as quail, duck, and bison

Fat Ideas 

  1. Extra-virgin olive oil
  2. Canola oil
  3. Safflower oil

Whole Grain Ideas

  1. Quinoa
  2. Farro
  3. Bulgur
  4. Barley
  5. Wheat Berries

Nut and Seed Ideas

  1. Almonds, pine nuts, walnuts
  2. Sesame seeds

Dairy Ideas

  1. Feta, goat cheese, haloumi, ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano
  2. Greek yogurt

Fruit Ideas

  1. Olives, avocados, tomatoes,
  2. Figs, apricots, dates
  3. Pears, oranges, grapes, cherries, pomegranates

Legumes

  1. Chickpeas, cannellini beans, fava beans
  2. Lentils, split peas
  3. Peanuts

Condiments and Spices

  1. Tahini
  2. Harissa
  3. Fig spread
  4. Hummus, tapenade, pesto,
  5. Za’atar
  6. Ground cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, Spanish paprika (also called pimentón)
  7. Saffron threads
Carroll, Linda. (2017, February 1). Mediterranean Diet Associated with Relief from Depression Symptoms. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/health/mediterranean-diet-associated-relief-depression-t107614
Laseter, Elizabeth. (2017, August 30). What is the Mediterranean Diet? Retrieved from http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/nutrition-101/what-is-the-Mediterranean-diet
Mayo Clinic Staff. Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801?pg=1
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