A Blog From the Harvard Medical School on Diet and Depression

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Diet and depression

Originally posted: FEBRUARY 22, 2018, 10:30 AM

Monique Tello, MD, MPH

Contributing Editor

I hope you all can benefit and enjoy from the reading of this blog, as always please consult your primary care physician before undergoing any diet and nutrition changes, as well as medication. This post just like all other are created with the intention to inform, educate, alert, motivate, encourage, challenge, and advice — not with the intentions to supplement any Doctor advice.

With that being said my beloved readers  ENJOY!

Just this week, I have seen three patients with depression requiring treatment. Treatment options include medications, therapy, and self-care. Self-care includes things like sleep, physical activity, and diet, and is just as important as meds and therapy — sometimes more so.

In counseling my patients about self-care, I always feel like we don’t have enough time to get into diet. I am passionate about diet and lifestyle measures for good health, because there is overwhelming evidence supporting the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle for, oh, just about everything: preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and mental health disorders, including depression.

Diet and emotional well-being

Diet is such an important component of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry. Mind-body medicine specialist Eva Selhub, MD has written a superb summary of what nutritional psychiatry is and what it means for you right here on this blog, and it’s worth reading.

What it boils down to is that what we eat matters for every aspect of our health, but especially our mental health. Several recent research analyses looking at multiple studies support that there is a link between what one eats and our risk of depression, specifically. One analysis concluded:

“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

Which comes first? Poor diet or depression?

One could argue that, well, being depressed makes us more likely to eat unhealthy foods. This is true, so we should ask what came first, the diet or the depression? Researchers have addressed this question, thankfully. Another large analysis looked only at prospective studies, meaning, they looked at baseline diet and then calculated the risk of study volunteers going on to develop depression. Researchers found that a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet as an example) was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing depressive symptoms.

So, how should I counsel my patients on diet? There are several healthy options that can be used as a guide. One that comes up again and again is the Mediterranean diet. Another wonderful resource for folks is the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website with an introductory guide to healthy diet.

The bottom line

The gist of it is, eat plants, and lots of them, including fruits and veggies, whole grains (in unprocessed form, ideally), seeds and nuts, with some lean proteins like fish and yogurt. Avoid things made with added sugars or flours (like breads, baked goods, cereals, and pastas), and minimize animal fats, processed meats (sorry, bacon), and butter. Occasional intake of these “bad” foods is probably fine; remember, everything in moderation. And, for those who are trying to lose weight, you can’t go wrong with colorful fruits and veggies. No one got fat eating berries or broccoli. Quality matters over quantity. And when it comes to what we eat, quality really, really matters.

Resources

Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, July 2017.

Diet quality and depression risk: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Journal of Affective Disorders, January 15, 2018.


I hope that you enjoyed the information provided!

As always with you in mind and heart,

—Denise Kilby

#letsconnect #comment

Published by Denise Kilby

Along the path of my life I have focused on growing as an individual, studying and learning on how to help others and expanding my view of life. I studied Criminal Psychology and Christian Counseling concentrating in marriage and Family Relations at Liberty University Online. I am a Fibromyalgia Fighter who has focused on living the best that I can every day of my life, my goal is to inspired others to live their lives to their fullest God given potential. In life we are given one body, one brain, and one flesh- with many muscles and we can't concentrate in the ones that hurt and don't work on one single day, we have to think on how we can make them stronger with the ones that do operate well. Staying focus and moving while we can is my key to happiness, pausing when my heart tells me to and thinking outside my head to maintain a healthy spiritual, mental, and fitness balance that brings me peace & provides physical healing. I am a mother of three blessings; 2 boys and a girl, wife, and daughter of God, passionate about people and the way the brain works. Who is always looking for ways to make life easier and helping individuals see the truth that lies within them, I know there’s more for everyone, and that we are far more than whatever our current circumstances may be, remembering that they might determine our situations but don't predict our future. I enjoy working with people and assisting individuals in many different areas, whatever it takes to make someone’s life better and meeting their professional needs. “Go as high as you can, there’s a world that needs your help” - Denise Kilby

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