A new analysis of studies has found a clear link between following diets that are rich in plant foods — particularly the Mediterranean diet — and a lower risk of depression.
The purpose of the study, led by University College London in the United Kingdom, was to inform the development of recommendations for professionals giving advice to people with depression.
Plant-rich diet tied to lower risk
For the study, the researchers searched databases of published research and found 41 observational studies that had assessed how closely people followed a healthful diet and how that was associated to depressive symptoms or clinical depression.
Of the 41 studies that they reviewed and analyzed, 21 were longitudinal — that is, they followed people over a period of time. The other 20 were cross-sectional; this type of study takes a snapshot and looks for links within that.
Four of the longitudinal studies had focused on how closely a total of 36,556 adults had followed a traditional Mediterranean diet and looked for links with depression. A traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in plant foods — such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and olive oil — and fish.
Analysis of all data from these studies revealed that following a plant-rich diet was associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of depression, compared with following a diet that was most unlike it.
'Pro-inflammatory diet' tied to increased risk
The investigators also found that following a pro-inflammatory diet was tied to a higher risk of depression. A pro-inflammatory diet in one that is higher in refined carbohydrates, added sugar, processed foods and saturated fat.
The study concluded that closely following a healthful diet, in particular a traditional Mediterranean diet, or avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet appears to confer some protection against depression in observational studies.
As all the data in their analysis came from observational studies, the authors cannot say that they actually prove that healthful diets can prevent depression, only that their evidence is consistent with this idea.
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