For decades now, researchers have found evidence that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, seafood, olive oil and moderate wine consumption, while limiting meat and dairy products, may help protect your body from heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and more. Now comes evidence it may protect your mind too. In a meta-analysis published Sept. 28 in Molecular Psychiatry, a team of U.K.–based researchers found that people who adhere to the diet were 33 percent less likely to develop depressive symptoms or clinical depression.
"A bad or unhealthy diet is responsible for so many other diseases, so you can't go wrong by advising patients to reduce processed foods and try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the diet," said lead author Dr. Camille Lassale, an associate in the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, in a statement.
For the analysis, Lassale and her team analyzed 41 studies using data from multiple countries that examined dietary habits and health. The researchers included only studies that accounted for lifestyle factors that could affect depression, such as smoking, physical inactivity and high body-mass index. The studies employed various measurements of dietary habits, such as the Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS), which tracks nine habits, including consumption of beneficial foods (such as fruit, vegetable, legumes, cereals and fish), detrimental foods (meat and dairy products) and alcohol in moderation.
Another diet looked at by the studies was the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which puts an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy products and also prescribes limiting consumption of saturated and total fat, but neither prescribes nor prohibits alcohol consumption. The team also tracked the health of people who had what they call a "pro-inflammatory diet." Lassale explained that pro-inflammatory foods include those that are high in trans fat, saturated fat, refined sugar, and "everything that is overly processed."
The authors concluded that of the diets, the Mediterranean diet showed the clearest link to a lower risk of depression. "Our review shows that there is observational evidence to suggest that both adhering to a healthy diet, in particular a traditional Mediterranean diet, and avoiding a pro-inflammatory diet is associated with reduced risk of depressive symptoms or clinical depression," the authors write.
While they could not pinpoint the reason for the lower risk of depression, they theorize it is because a Mediterranean diet is filled with foods (and drink) that lower inflammation. Depression has been linked to inflammation in the brain and nervous system. They caution, however, that there is not enough data to show whether a healthy diet leads to lower risk of depression, or if people who suffer from depression then eat a less healthy diet. (And it's important to remember that over-consumption of alcohol is often a symptom of depression.) The researchers call for further study.
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