Eating the right foods can help you in ways you never thought possible, an Israeli nutritionist says.

How much impact does nutrition have on our mental health? There’s a wealth of research on the link between diet and depression, including a groundbreaking new study out of the University of St. Louis that points to a 33% lower risk of depression for adherents to the world-famous Mediterranean diet.

That study, published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal, also broke down the results of five previous studies investigating the link between a poor diet and depression in 32,908 adults from France, Australia, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K. The researchers point particularly to the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish and healthy oils like olive oil.

mediterranean diet spread
It’s time to add more Med to your meals. (Photo: Antonina Vlasova/Shutterstock)

The phenomenon is something that’s fascinated nutritionist Galit Goldfarb for years. The Israel-born nutritionist has made a career of touting the medicinal power of food, having published a series of books on the “ideal diet for humans” and counseling clients on how to heal their bodies using food. She’s also a motivational speaker, blogger and health and wellness coach.

Though she’s found success, Goldfarb wasn’t always the picture of health we see today. A few years ago, Goldfarb was an unhappy, divorced, overweight and unhealthy young mother of two special-needs children who found herself utterly confused about what to eat to improve her health, restore her energy and heal her body.

Patterned yoga pants from Margarita Activewear.
Galit Goldfarb. (Photo: Courtesy)

“I knew that what we eat has a grave impact on our health more than anything else does, but what is right to eat?” Goldfarb told us. “Is it individual – do we each have an ideal diet? What does it depend on? … I decided to put together the research from all of the scientific fields to get my answer, (and) my life changed and so did the lives of my clients, family and children. People healed from diseases or improved their situation for conditions that I never even knew existed.”

Indeed, the medicinal power of food became a passion for Goldfarb, who now sells numerous self-help products including “The Guerilla Diet” book series, superfood dietary supplements, DVDs and kitchen tools. Recently, she’s been examining the properties of the Mediterranean diet that contribute to mood and overall health.

In an interview with From The Grapevine, Goldfarb explained eight key factors that make the Mediterranean diet ideal for combating depression:

BDNF: The Mediterranean diet is rich in leafy salads and fish, which are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that play a critical role in brain function and mood. They also support Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) production. BDNF plays a vital role in brain health and the flexibility of the central nervous system as well as supporting adult neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells in adulthood) and maintaining brain circuits (through neuroplasticity). Lack of BDNF has been shown to lead to depression and many other mental disorders.

Resveratrol: The anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean diet is also rich in fruits especially berries and grapes, including wine, which is rich in resveratrol, widely used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Resveratrol has neuroprotective effects by increasing levels of BDNF.

Turmeric: Turmeric is a spice commonly used in the Mediterranean diet known for its health benefits. Turmeric has also been found to increase brain levels of BDNF.

turmeric tea
Turmeric tea is used in many cultures as a remedy for several ailments. (Photo: NADKI / Shutterstock)

Fiber: The Mediterranean diet is rich in legumes, beans, green vegetables, and whole grains all which are rich in fiber. Fiber helps stabilize the insulin response which contributes to balancing cortisol levels. If cortisol levels are frequently high (from chronic stress, it will lead to estrogen dominance, leading also to mood swings and depression. With enough fiber in the diet, the body will eliminate excess estrogens.

Carbohydrates: The Mediterranean diet is rich in carbohydrates. People who are rigid in their eating habits or follow a very low-carbohydrate diet or a very high protein diet may be at risk for developing symptoms of depression, because serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, is obtained from carbohydrate-rich foods. Almost all anti-depressant drugs work by increasing uptake of serotonin. Evidence suggests that eating a whole grain carbohydrate-rich meal with sufficient protein will increase the tryptophan available to the brain, because when carbohydrate-rich foods are consumed, the body releases insulin, which diverts other amino acids to the muscles but leaves tryptophan untouched. This provides a better ground for tryptophan to enter the brain and promote its effect on the brain. Tryptophan-rich foods include Spirulina, chia seeds, sesame seeds, watermelon seeds, flax seeds, cashews, pistachios, almonds and soy beans, all common in the Mediterranean diet.

Assorted superfoods
Fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are all full of fiber – and they’re all staples of the Mediterranean Diet. (Photo: marilyn barbone / Shutterstock)

Vitamin D: Vitamin D from sunlight is plentiful in the Mediterranean due to its location. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in the northern hemisphere. People are not getting enough sunlight or when they do; they have a sunscreen that does not allow the UV rays to penetrate the skin. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression.

Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is common in the Western world. Too much phosphoric acid found in carbonated soft drinks, alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar, chronic stress, antibiotics and diuretics all reduce magnesium levels. Magnesium participates in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and helps us feel more at ease. Magnesium is found in abundance in foods very common in the Mediterranean diet including pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, soy beans and brown rice.

Exercise: Walking is common practice in the Mediterranean region due to the comfortable weather. Exercise has a major influence on mood through the production of europeptides such as endorphins, which make us feel good.

This piece by Jaime Bender was first seen on ‘From the Grapevine‘, 26 February, 2019.

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