Over 16 million adults and adolescents in the U.S. struggle with depression. It is one of the most common mental disorders and can interfere with a person’s ability to live their life normally. Medications and cognitive behavioral therapy are often used to treat depression, but a new study has found that eating a better diet can also help improve mood.
Research has not been able to establish a definite link between diet and mental health, but this study was a massive review of previous research involving diets and emotional health. After researchers reviewed 16 clinical trials involving over 45,000 people, they concluded that diet improved mental health.
The review included diets for weight loss, fat reduction and those emphasizing nutrient-rich foods. The results indicated that specialized diets are not necessary. All had similar benefits for depression; simply eating more nutritious foods — more vegetables, more fiber and cutting back on fast food and refined sugars — positively affected mental health.
Adding exercise to a better diet showed even greater improvement in depressive symptoms.
The study, by Joseph Firth and his colleagues at The University of Manchester and the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, adds to the growing evidence for lifestyle interventions as treatment for low mood and depression. Adding exercise to a better diet yielded an even greater decrease of depressive symptoms, though more research is needed to fully understand how diet is related and whether dietary changes may affect other psychiatric conditions.
If you are being treated for depression, a healthier diet and more physical activity level may help. Do not quit taking your medication, but eat more fruits and vegetables. And choose whole grain breads, rice and pasta over processed products. Avoid sugary foods and beverages. Skip the fast food. Do more cooking at home. Join a gym or a dance class, take up a sport or take a walk every day. You just might find yourself feeling better.
The study is published in Psychosomatic Medicine.