Did you know that A healthy diet is associated with an approximately 30% reduction in the risk for depression and a 40% improvement in your thinking? There’s been a growing body of research showing an association between diet, inflammation and depression. Recently two Australian studies show that eating a Mediterranean style diet actually improved depression symptoms. That’s only two studies, so we have a ways to go to get to where we can rely on this as an official protocol. But even with what we have, the results are consistent enough to recommend this as an intervention for depression.
The diet is a modified Mediterranean diet, called the Medimod diet. You don’t count calories or keep up with points. Instead, you eat brain healthy foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, fish and extra virgin olive oil. You also reduce or eliminate foods that are bad for the brain like refined cereals, fried and sugary foods, processed foods and refined flour like white bread,
What are processed foods?
Things like deli meats, crackers, cookies, and chips. You want to eat foods as close to their original state as possible. Foods close to their original state are called whole foods.
If you can’t tolerate gluten, you can still follow the diet but eat non-gluten containing grains. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley.
Some non-gluten containing whole grains are buckwheat, oats, millet, and rye. Whole wheat is the most common, but variety is important, so you want to try some of the other grains. Whole grain options for rice are brown or black rice. Other whole grains are couscous and quinoa. For pasta and bread, you want to look for 100% whole wheat or whole grain.
What makes this work?
We know that inflammation contributes to depression. Healthy diets are ¬anti-inflammatory, and are rich in B-vitamins and folate which is important for brain function. These nutrients improve neuroplasticity which improves depression. Neuroplasticity refers to the connections between the neurons. Tight connections are good because that’s what the nerves need to communicate with each other. Loose connections are bad because it makes it harder for the nerves to transfer messages between the cells.
How long does it take to work? In these studies, they didn’t retest the people until 3 months later. So we don’t know if people started to feel better sooner than that. But there have been other studies using the Mediterranean diet. Some of these studies show that your gut microbiome changes in just 2-3 weeks. What kind of bacteria you have in your gut, dictates the health of your gut. The health of your gut influences the health of your whole body including your brain. What we don’t know is the lag time between improved gut bacteria and improved mood.
Even if you don’t have depression, the Mediterranean diet is associated with decreased risk of stroke and heart attacks. You may need to adjust it to your special needs like if you are lactose intolerant or need to have low protein because of kidney disease. But the best part of this diet that works no matter how you need to modify it, is the reduction in processed food and sugar. Whether you eat Paleo or keto, eating whole foods can make a world of difference.
Medimod Guide (free download) t
Depression and Neuoroplasticity video s
Rachelle S. Opie, Adrienne O’Neil, Felice N. Jacka, Josephine Pizzinga & Catherine Itsiopoulos (2018)A modified Mediterranean dietary intervention for adults with major depression: Dietary protocol and feasibility data from the SMILES trial, Nutritional Neuroscience, 21:7, 487-501,
Jacka et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine (2017) 15: 23
Lai JS, Hiles S, Bisquera A, Hure AJ, McEvoy M, Attia J. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community- dwelling adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;99: 181–97.
Marx W et al, Nutritional psychiatry: the present state of the evidence.
Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2017;76(4): 427-436
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