A Study On Depression Reveals The Best Diet To Boost Mood
When you think of the favorite foods of men between the ages of 18 and 24, the Mediterranean diet would probably not come to mind. Yet, a new study found that the Mediterranean diet, which has an abundance of plant-based foods, may improve depression symptoms in this population of men.
Men were the focus of the study since research shows men are less likely to seek treatment for depression, a common mental health condition that affects 1 in 8 males each year, especially young adults. The mood disorder can interfere with normal daily living activities and can cause sadness, anxiety, frustration, restlessness, and sleep problems.
Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life, the CDC says.
Food alone cannot “cure” mental health, but it can improve overall mental health, says Jessica Bayes, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia and lead researcher of the Mediterranean diet study.
Bayes’ 12-week study involved 72 men with moderate to severe depression who were randomly divided into two groups. One group received a booklet with meal plans and recipes, given $50 worth of Mediterranean foods, met with a nutritionist three times over the trial period, and was taught how to best adhere to the Mediterranean diet. The foods included specific servings of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and extra virgin olive oil. The control group spoke with researchers about neutral topics, such as movies or sports.
All participants in the control group reported an improvement in depression symptoms, with 36 percent rating their symptoms as “low to minimal.” The men also reported improvements in their ability to concentrate, sleep, and feel energetic.
Bayes said she was surprised at how willing the men were to start a new eating plan.
“Nearly all our participants stayed with the program, and many were keen to continue the diet once the study ended, which shows how effective, tolerable and worthwhile they found the intervention,” Bayes said of the study published April 20, 2022, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Exploring the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is named for foods commonly eaten in France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The diet emphasizes olive oil, nuts, whole grains, oily fish, lean meat, and colorful vegetables.
The food plan is packed with health benefits, which is among the reasons U.S. News and World Report has ranked the Mediterranean diet as the No. 1 best diet for the past five years.
The Mediterranean diet provides essential nutrients that are “widely deficient in the typical Western diet,” according to Suzie Sawyer, a clinical nutritionist and founder of Nutrition Lifestyle based in Brighton, England, United Kingdom (UK). The diet is naturally low in refined sugars which can lead to weight gain.
For those who are not familiar with foods based on the culture but want to start eating a Mediterranean diet, nutrition experts recommend starting the meal plan by:
- Eating seafood once a week
- Using olive oil for cooking
- Eating healthy snacks
- Incorporating potatoes, beans, olives, hummus, salmon, and dark chocolate into your meals
Sawyer and Reema Patel, a registered dietician at Dietitian Fit & Co in the UK, created a simple five-day Mediterranean diet meal plan for those interested in livening up their meals:
Day 1: Poached egg on seeded sourdough toast.
Day 2: Gluten-free buckwheat pancakes with colorful berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, and cherries.
Day 3: Smashed avocado, sprinkled with chopped walnuts on rye toast.
Day 4: Whole grain toast with ricotta and watermelon.
Day 5: Spinach omelet with a side of asparagus, mushrooms, and olives.
Day 1: Traditional Greek salad made with cucumber, onions, tomatoes, feta, and olives.
Day 2: Sliced tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with fresh basil.
Day 3: Grilled fresh sardines with a green salad of lettuce, rocket (also known as arugula), cucumber, and onion, with focaccia bread dipped in olive oil.
Day 4: Chicken sandwich with arugula or lettuce and hummus.
Day 5: Falafel with couscous and green beans. Make the falafel from a packet rather than using ready-made ones. Fry them in olive oil for a crisp finish.
Day 1: Foil-baked salmon with lemon and dill, new potatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, and roasted asparagus. Bake on a sheet pan.
Day 2: Hearty minestrone soup with small pasta, kidney beans, white beans, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, tinned tomatoes, rosemary, bay leaf, and paprika. Make this in advance and save for lunch the following day.
Day 3: Fresh tuna steak with mashed sweet potato, sautéed kale, and roasted tomatoes with basil.
Day 4: Stuffed bell pepper with minced turkey, cheese, and Italian seasoning.
Day 5: Portobello mushroom pizza and salad. Put olive oil and garlic on the mushroom, then top it with olive oil and garlic, and then bake on a baking sheet until the cheese is melty. The mushrooms provide a “fake pizza” option.
The Mediterranean diet includes versatile foods, like mushrooms and eggs, that provide options for regular meals. For instance, George Arkley, a contributing writer for Insider who has been following the Mediterranean diet for five years, said when he does not know what to make, he turns to eggs.
Arkley says he mixes a few eggs, a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, and some crumbled feta cheese together. Then, he finely dices half an onion and fries it with crushed garlic for a few minutes. He sautés some spinach in the onion mixture and pours the egg concoction on top. Then, he bakes it in the oven until the egg is fully cooked and garnished with fresh parsley and seasonings of choice.
When wanting more proteins and to “mix things up” with meat alternatives. Arkley says he adds tofu to salads and grain bowls for a protein boost. He also marinates the tofu cubes in lemon, garlic, and rosemary overnight and then fries them in olive oil for a crispy texture.
Most diets require watching calories or eliminating certain foods, but the Mediterranean diet is more versatile than other diets.
“The Mediterranean diet doesn’t involve counting calories, tracking macronutrients like carbohydrates, or any of the strict rules or restrictions of many of the fads marketed to us these days as health or weight-loss quick fixes,” said Lauren Armstrong, a registered dietitian, personal nutrition coach, and writer.