Happy meals: Making positive change to diet also helps ward off depression

MANCHESTER, England — If the winter blues are bringing you down, consider changing your diet. A new study finds that healthier eating habits can relieve symptoms of depression, whether the dietary changes focus on weight loss or improved nutrition.

The University of Manchester study determined that the benefits of dietary changes positively impact mood in all individuals, not just those formally diagnosed with depressive disorders. Lead author Joseph Firth, a researcher with the university, says that the impact of diet on mood and mental health was not well understood before this study was undertaken.

“But,” Firth explains in a university release, “our recent meta-analysis has done just that: showing that adopting a healthier diet can boost peoples’ mood.”

Researchers compiled data from 16 randomized controlled trials that looked at the effects of dietary changes on symptoms of depression and anxiety. Most of the 48,826 participants had non-clinical depression.

The findings were remarkable. It seems that any dietary intervention has an equally positive influence on mental health, whether the goal of the diet is weight loss, improved nutrition or a reduction of fat consumption.

“This is actually good news,” says Firth. “The similar effects from any type of dietary improvement suggests that highly-specific or specialized diets are unnecessary for the average individual.”

Firth suggests making simple changes.

“Eating more nutrient-dense meals that are high in fiber and vegetables, while cutting back on fast-foods and refined sugars appears to be sufficient for avoiding the potentially negative psychological effects of a ‘junk food‘ diet,” he says.

Interestingly, the results of the study showed that, although both men and women benefit from dietary changes, women see improvements in both depression and anxiety. “We’re not yet sure why some of our data showed significantly greater benefits from diets for women,” Firth adds.

The findings support a combination of dietary changes and exercise to provide even more relief from depressive symptoms than dietary interventions alone. Researchers believe there is a need for much more research to determine how a healthy diet results in better physical health and why diet changes help people with clinically-diagnosed psychiatric conditions.

“It could be through reducing obesity, inflammation, or fatigue–all of which are linked to diet and impact upon mental health,” Firth suspects.

Study findings are published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

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