By Sean Zucker —
Over the past several decades, the Mediterranean diet emerged as a hugely popular health trend. Luckily, there’s good reason to believe the hype. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, it captured the crown of “Best Overall Diet” in 2022’s U.S. News and World Report. The meal plan even secured the top spot in a few other categories, including “Best for Heart Health” and “Best for Diabetes.”
As previously reported by WellWell, the Mediterranean diet serves many health benefits, such as combatting aging-related diseases, improving gut health and lowering blood sugar. It’s also one of the best diets for brain health. Now another massive benefit discovered is that is generating enthusiasm. That is, at least for men battling depression.
A recent study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet can positively affect depression symptoms in young men. Led by Jessica Bayes, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, the study had 72 men aged between 18 and 25 years old who suffered from moderate to severe depression to either maintain their diet or switch to a Mediterranean option for 12 weeks.
While admittedly a small sample size, the results showed tantalizing promise. Every man on the Mediterranean diet reported a decrease in symptoms, with 36 percent saying feelings of depression were minimal or low. Conversely, no one in the control group who maintained their regular diet reported any decrease in depression symptoms.
“These results highlight the important role of nutrition for the treatment of depression and should inform advice given by clinicians to this specific demographic population,” the researchers stated.
Why does the Mediterranean diet have this impact? The belief is rooted in depression’s association with inflammation. Inspired by the eating habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea, the meal plan involves high consumption of oil olive, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, vegetables, and, of course, fish. All these items provide some anti-inflammatory benefit, especially fish because it is known for this nutritional boon. The diet also minimizes or fully axes chicken, pork, beef and other non-fish sourced meats.
There has been previous evidence supporting the flip side of these findings, as well. A 2017 meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression risk published in Psychiatry Research reported the link between what someone eats and how they feel is distinct. “A dietary pattern characterized by high consumption of red and processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy. Low intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with an increased risk of depression,” it concluded.
Just how much the Mediterranean diet may improve depression symptoms for older men or women is still unclear. More research needs to happen. However, given the evidence, when looking for a means of reducing depression—there may be few better fish in the sea.