Last summer, Chinese researchers published a study in Psychiatry Research, showing a connection between depression risk and what we eat.
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis on 21 studies (half of which were cohort studies) previously published studies in an effort to find common dietary patterns in research that shows a connection between nutrition and mental health. Combined, the 21 studies involved over 117,000 participants.
They found that those who followed one type of diet were less likely to experience depression and those who followed another type of diet were more likely to experience depression.
Foods tied to reduced depression risk
From the studies, the researchers found that those who had diets with high intakes of the following foods had a lower risk of depression:
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- Low-fat dairy
As well, they found that low intake of animal foods was connected to lower depression risk.
The researchers reported 3 possible reasons why this dietary pattern has this connection with positive mental health:
- It’s high in antioxidants (vitamins C and E, for example).
- It’s high in folate.
- It’s high in omega-3 fatty acids.
All of these nutrients have been connected to positive mental health.
Foods tied to increased depression risk
At the same time, researchers found that those who had diets with high intakes of the following foods had a higher risk of depression:
- Red meat
- Processed meat
- Refined grains (such as white flour or white rice)
- High-fat dairy products (including butter)
- High-fat gravy
Unsurprisingly, they also found that low intake of fruits and vegetables was connected to higher depression risk.
The researchers reported 2 possible reasons why this dietary pattern has this connection with positive mental health.
- Diets high in processed foods may lead to “inflammation and cardiovascular diseases, which are involved in the pathogenesis of depression”
- Diets high in processed foods may lead to “low-grade inflammation . . . and subsequent brain atrophy, which are positively associated with depression”
- Diets high in sweets alters “endorphin levels and oxidative stress”, which increases depression risk.
This study joins a growing body of research showing a strong connection between mental health and what we consume. Here at Truehope, we’ve been promoting nutrition as mental health treatment for over 20 years.