Brain Food

A good diet can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in keep­ing de­pres­sion at bay, writes Paula Goodyer.

Australian House & Garden - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.foodand­mood­cen­tre.com.au.

With de­pres­sion and diet now linked, it pays to eat well.

How im­por­tant is food to men­tal health? Im­por­tant enough to have guide­lines on how to eat to re­duce the risk of de­pres­sion, say a group of in­ter­na­tional re­searchers, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s Pro­fes­sor Felice Jacka, di­rec­tor of Deakin Uni­ver­sity’s Food & Mood Cen­tre.

“Tra­di­tional ways of eat­ing, such as fol­low­ing the Mediter­ranean diet, have been con­sis­tently linked to a lower risk of de­pres­sion, while di­ets high in pro­cessed food are linked to an in­creased risk,” she says.

What makes these reg­i­mens so mood-boost­ing? Like the tra­di­tional Ja­panese and Nordic di­ets – the lat­ter of which is a Scan­di­na­vian style of eat­ing that cen­tres on fish, veg­eta­bles, whole­grains, pas­ture-fed meats, yo­ghurt and berries – the Mediter­ranean diet is heavy on plant-based foods and rich in nu­tri­ents. It de­liv­ers plenty of an­tiox­i­dants that pro­tect against ox­ida­tive stress, which is linked to de­pres­sion.

“A large di­etary trial in Europe pro­vided ev­i­dence to sug­gest that a Mediter­ranean diet – par­tic­u­larly one that in­cludes raw nuts – could re­duce the risk of de­vel­op­ing de­pres­sion.”

When it comes to the part of the brain in­volved with de­pres­sion, size mat­ters – and what we eat can af­fect that too. Re­search car­ried out by Pro­fes­sor Jacka in 2015 found that older adults whose di­ets in­cluded more sweet drinks, salty snacks and pro­cessed meats had a smaller left hip­pocam­pus – the part of the brain that’s in­te­gral to learn­ing, mem­ory and men­tal health – and it was larger in those eat­ing more veg­eta­bles, fruit and fish.

So if diet can help lower the risk of de­vel­op­ing de­pres­sion, can it also help peo­ple who al­ready have it? A new study by the Food & Mood Cen­tre sug­gests it can. Re­searchers com­pared two groups of peo­ple with ma­jor de­pres­sion – one had help from a di­eti­tian to eat bet­ter (less pro­cessed food and more olive oil, fish, veg­eta­bles, fruit, nuts and legumes) and the other group had so­cial sup­port. In a third of those in the diet group, de­pres­sion went into re­mis­sion, while just eight per cent of the other group had the same re­sult, says Jacka.

‘A Mediter­ranean diet – par­tic­u­larly one that in­cludes raw nuts – could re­duce the risk of de­vel­op­ing de­pres­sion.’ Pro­fes­sor Felice Jacka

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