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Depression and diet. “The chicken and the egg.”

Depression and diet. “The chicken and the egg.”

If you’ve ever had depression you know the thought of meals – planning them, buying for them, preparing them – well, it’s exhausting. So many of us tend to go for food that’s quick and easy, probably high in things we don’t really want to know about, and not that great for us. And when we eat that stuff we tend to feel gross afterwards, the self loathing thoughts and putdowns begin, and we reach for more (not great)  food to comfort ourselves. And that’s how depression and diet are connected. Right?

Actually, maybe not. It seems diet and nutrition may play a far more crucial role in treating and preventing depression than is first apparent.

Mood and Food

Over the years many studies have shown a definite link between depression and diet. A recent example is that by Dr Joanna Dipnall from Swinbourne University in Melbourne. She found that diet and depression are strongly connected. Dr Dipnall analysed information from more than 5500 adults, looking at the association between depression, demographics, lifestyle, diet, biomarkers and somatic symptoms. What she found was that each one of these increase the risk of depression, and the one factor that was most strongly associated with depression – diet. Unsuprisingly perhaps, regular consumption of fruit, leafy greens, and other vegetables, cooked whole grains and whole grain bread were associated with a reduced risk for depression, while a diet high in processed foods and sugar was associated with a higher risk.

So food and mood are related. But can we change our mood by choosing to eat different food?

Professor Felice Jacka and researchers from Deakin University would say yes. Improving diet quality can treat major depression. They conducted a randomised controlled trial to directly assess the impact of improving diet quality on depression. Adults with major depressive disorder were recruited and randomly assigned to receive either social support, which is known to be helpful for people with depression, or support from a clinical dietitian, over a three-month period.

The dietary group received information and assistance to improve the quality of their current diets, with a focus on increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, while reducing their consumption of unhealthy ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks.

The results of the study showed that participants in the dietary intervention group had a much greater reduction in their depressive symptoms over the three-month period, compared to those in the social support group.

At the end of the trial, a third of those in the dietary support group met criteria for remission of major depression, compared to 8 percent of those in the social support group.

The takeway message – A healthy diet can protect your mental health.