An improved diet can help boost people’s moods and reduce symptoms of mild depression, a study has found.
Researchers analysed clinical trials of nearly 46,000 people who changed their diet to deal with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“Just making core basic changes… like reducing junk food intake,” lead researcher Dr Joseph Firth from Western Sydney University told Hack.
Replacing high sugar and high fat foods with nutrient-dense, high-fibre foods like vegetables is what you need to do to see significant improvements in symptoms of depression.
The study found many kinds of healthy diets improved depression, from weight loss to nutrient boosting to fat reduction diets.
“We took a bit of a close look at the data and interestingly found there was no significant differences in the types of diets used,” Dr Firth said.
“Weight loss diets were just as effective as nutrient boosting diets.
“This suggests that extreme diets are unnecessary for mental health, just making the core basic changes will work.”
Previous studies have shown that exercise has a protective effect against depression, but Dr Firth said this is the first evidence showing improving your diet can also improve your mental health.
The average Australian consumes 19 serves of junk food a week, and far fewer serves of fibre-rich fresh food and whole grains than recommended.
Around 300 million people live with depression worldwide and there’s been little research into treating depression with methods other than medication and talking to a therapist.
What about anxiety?
The study found a healthy diet had no effect on symptoms of anxiety.
It also showed diet was more likely to lower depression in women than in men.
“We saw a bigger affect in women, females respond much better to dietary intervention in terms of mental health outcomes,” Dr Firth said.
Diet changes not a replacement for other treatments
Dr Firth said a healthy diet should not be a replacement for other, tested treatments for depression, but instead an additional remedy.
We definitely need more research to test if it can replace other therapies.
The researchers called for public health campaigns to include messages about how diet can impact mental health.
“Public health schemes are trying to improve people’s diets and looking at the physical health outcomes… and focusing on combating things like obesity.
“They should also pay attention to actual positive mental health outcomes that could occur and improve people’s diets on a large scale to fix people’s psychological well being.”
You can read the full study published in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine here.