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Mediterranean diet may reduce risk of depression

People who live in Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Greece, France, Italy and others that surround the Mediterranean Sea, may eat foods that lower their risk of depression.

Individuals who follow a Mediterranean type diet—rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish—appear less likely to develop depression, according to a report in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders has been found to be lower in Mediterranean than Northern European countries. Researchers think it may be because the diet commonly followed in the region, may be protective against depression, in part, because of the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil—used abundantly in the Mediterranean diet.

In a study of 10,094 healthy participants completed in 2005, 480 new cases of depression were identified. Individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a 30 percent lower risk of depression than those who had the lowest Mediterranean diet scores.

Researchers aren’t sure why the Mediterranean diet could help to reduce the occurrence of depression. Components of the diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation, reduce risk for heart disease and repair oxygen-related cell damage, all of which may decrease the chances of developing depression.

But the combination 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 Mediterranean may provide some protection against depression, according to the authors.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Eating small portions of nuts
  • Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
  • Consuming very little red meat
  • Eating fish or shellfish at least twice a week

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