Eating better reduces depression symptoms, new research finds.
Three common diets have similar positive effects, whether people are trying to lose weight, reduce fat or just improve the nutrients in their diet.
There is no need for a special depression-busting diet: simply eating more fruit and veg and avoiding junk food will help.
Dietary changes are particularly beneficial for women, the scientists found.
Dr Joseph Firth, the study’s first author, said:
“The overall evidence for the effects of diet on mood and mental well-being had up to now yet to be assessed.
But our recent meta-analysis has done just that; showing that adopting a healthier diet can boost people’s mood.
However, it has no clear effects on anxiety.”
The conclusions come from almost 46,000 people who were involved in every existing clinical trial looking at diet and mental health problems.
The results showed that all three types of diet — a nutrient boosting, weight loss and fat reduction diet — ease depression symptoms.
Dr Firth said:
“This is actually good news.
The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialised diets are unnecessary for the average individual.
Instead, just making simple changes is equally beneficial for mental health.
In particular, eating more nutrient-dense meals which are high in fibre and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food’ diet.”
Exercise will boost the positive effects of diet changes, said Dr Brendon Stubbs, study co-author:
“…when dietary interventions were combined with exercise, a greater improvement in depressive symptoms was experienced by people.”
It is not yet clear how diet improves mental health, said Dr Firth:
“It could be through reducing obesity, inflammation, or fatigue—all of which are linked to diet and impact upon mental health.
And further research is still required to examine the effects of dietary interventions in people with clinically-diagnosed psychiatric conditions.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (Firth et al., 2019).