A growing body of research is linking diet and mental health, indicating that food choices could be a factor in anxiety, depression, and other issues. A 2017 study was one of the first to demonstrate that a Mediterranean diet yields lower depression ratings and further follow-up research have demonstrated links between gut health and mental health. So what should we be eating for better mental health? A healthy, balanced, mostly plant-based diet is a great start, and holistic psychologist Nicole Lippman-Barile, Ph.D. tells MindBodyGreen that these four food groups should specifically be on your radar for lowered depression.
Leafy greens are high in folate, or vitamin B9, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cognitive function. It also helps regulate gene expression. Leafy greens are also high in vitamin K which promotes strong memory and lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. One study, in particular, found that those who ate one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the comparable cognitive ability to someone 11 years younger.
This Mediterranean classic is full of polyphenols which reduces inflammation due to high oleic acid content. Opt for extra-virgin and cold-pressed olive oil for the most benefits.
Berries are high in phytochemicals which reduce inflammation and enhance neuroplasticity. One study found that children and adults who consumed blueberries saw positive mental health benefits just two hours after consumption.
Another common Mediterranean diet staple, studies have found that higher overall fish consumption is linked to lower levels of depression. Seafood also ranks highly on the Antidepressant Food Score created by doctors Drew Ramsey, M.D., and Laura LaChance, M.D. Why? Fatty fish are packed with omega-3 fatty acids as well as trace minerals which facilitate critical enzymatic reactions.
Inflammation plays a major role in disease and mental health conditions, which is why so many doctors now believe diet and mental health to be strongly linked. Additionally, the gut microbes in our diets are linked to 60 percent of the bacteria variation in our body, which also impacts overall health and inflammation. This so-called gut-brain axis is not fully understood by the scientific community, but based on these studies, there’s no harm in making a Mediterranean shift in your diet with these four foods. As always, be sure to consult your physician before making any major diet changes.