Not only did eating a healthy diet for three weeks improve depressive symptoms in college-aged young adults, but those who continued the diet for three months kept their improved outlook on life, according to a small randomized trial on diet and depression.
In a randomized trial, men and women aged 17-35 in Australia who switched to a healthier diet had fewer depression symptoms after three weeks. And those who kept up the healthy eating for three months continued to feel better than at the start, researchers report in the journal PLoS ONE.
“This has 100% reach, is more cost effective than medications, and is an aspect of treatment that individuals can control themselves,” said lead study author Heather Francis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
As part of the work, the students were split into two groups, one that ate a ‘regular’ diet and another that ate a healthy diet. The students were simply given instructions on how to improve their diet, as well as some health food and a bit of money for other groceries.
The program also recommended daily consumption of three tablespoons of nuts and seeds, two tablespoons of olive oil, and one teaspoon each of turmeric and cinnamon. Participants were also told to decrease refined carbohydrates, sugars, fatty or processed meats and soft drinks.
After three weeks, both groups were assessed and it was found that the healthy eaters had experienced a drop in depression putting them in the ‘normal’ range, as well as a significant drop in anxiety. The group that continued to eat an ordinary diet, however, didn’t show any changes in depression levels.
Although the current findings add to the evidence that food plays a role in mental health, the study does have significant limitations.
First and foremost, the study only recruited a small number of participants; and these were exclusively young adults that were attending the university, so the findings might not apply to other demographics.
Past research has shown an association between highly processed foods and an increased risk of depression, while consuming a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduced risk of depression.