Personal Growth

Diet Might Improve Depression Better Than Socializing

This day and age, we know better than ever before how important it is to take care of your mental health. Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can spiral into serious situations, and they can even have a major impact on your physical health. But the reverse is true, as well, and when you stick to a healthy diet you might find your mental state improving as well.

You Are What You Eat

According to a 12-week study from 2016, adhering to a set of healthy nutritional guidelines was a more effective treatment for depression than having access to a social support group. Here's how the experiment worked: The researchers recruited 67 participants with some degree of depression, and split them into two groups of 33 and 34. The first was given a diet plan that emphasized healthy servings of all the major food groups. It prescribed whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fish, lean meat, and other nutritional helpings of healthy food. The second group, by contrast, was given social support — a "befriending" protocol that encouraged participants to talk about their interests and engage in group activities. Some studies have shown it to be about as effective as garden-variety therapy. Sounds fun, right? But the healthy diet turned out to be a more reliable method of countering depression.

At the start of the study, each participant was given a score on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS). It's a zero-to-60 scale, and the higher your score, the more severe your depression. The diet and social support groups started at roughly the same scores: 26.1 for the former, 24.7 for the latter. But after 12 weeks, the diet group showed much more pronounced results. Their new MADRS score was 14.8, while the social support group clocked in at 20.5. There you go: friends are great, but if you're experiencing depression, your first priority should be your health.

The Anti-Depressive Diet

In case you'd like to try out this diet for your own mental health needs, it broke down like this:

  • Whole grains (5 to 8 servings per day)
  • Vegetables (6 servings per day)
  • Fruit (3 servings per day)
  • Low-fat and unsweetened dairy (2 to 3 servings per day)
  • Olive oil (3 tablespoons per day)
  • Raw and unsalted nuts (1 serving per day)
  • Legumes (3 to 4 servings per week)
  • Fish (at least 2 servings per week)
  • Lean red meat (3 to 4 servings per week)
  • Chicken (2 to 3 servings per week)
  • Eggs (up to 6 servings per week)

The other part of the diet was a list of things to avoid: "extras" like sweets, refined cereals, fried food, beer, and liquor were kept to a maximum of three servings per week. Now, you're allowed up to two glasses of alcohol per day, but since beer and spirits are restricted, red and white wine (preferably red) get a little more leeway. The diet has a lot of rules, but it also leaves room for more pleasurable food — filet mignon with a nice glass of Cabernet, for instance. That makes it that much easier to stick with your mental health plan for weeks and months at a time.

For more ways to beat the blues by improving your health, check out "Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier" by Scott Douglas. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

How To Conquer Depression Through Diet

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 17, 2018

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