In case you’ve missed previous studies extolling the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, researchers have just produced another one.
This particular study found a reduced risk of depression in people eating a Mediterranean diet: rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and fish; low in meat; moderate in dairy and alcohol; and high in monounsaturated fats compared to saturated. Authors of the study, which appeared in the October 2009 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that people who followed this diet most closely had a more than 30 percent reduction in their risk of depression.
Study authors aren’t certain what’s at work here, but note that components of the Mediterranean diet can fight inflammation, improve cardiovascular function, and repair free radical damage, all of which might help prevent depression. Previous studies suggest that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil might protect against depression, as well.
This all makes sense to me. Not only olive oil but other mainstays of the Mediterranean diet contain protective nutrients. Among them:
• Red wine and grapes contain resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant thought to slow cell damage caused by free radicals.
• Garlic and its active ingredient allicin have selective anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. Eating garlic tends to promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
• Oregano has anti-inflammatory properties, helpful since inflammation is implicated in a range of chronic conditions from arthritis to heart disease to dementia.
• Tomatoes contain lycopene, another powerful antioxidant and phytonutrient that may aid the health of the eyes, among other things.
• Fish contains omega-three fatty acids, essential for brain function and previously found to have positive effects on depression.
When it’s fresh and made from whole grains, pasta might be part of the picture – whole grains are often a good source of B vitamins, also known to help mental health -- but just a part.
As the study authors write, “The role of the overall dietary pattern may be more important than the effect of single components.” They add, “The synergistic combination of a sufficient provision of omega-three fatty acids together with other natural unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants from olive oil and nuts, flavonoids and other phytochemicals from fruit and other plant foods and large amounts of natural folates and other B vitamins in the overall Mediterranean dietary pattern may exert a fair degree of protection against depression.”
You can find the original announcement of these study results here.