Research has proven many times over that what you eat can have a major impact on your mood. Now research is showing that eating a Mediterranean diet--a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and fish--can reduce the risk of depression.

In October 2009 Spanish researchers reported that in a study they conducted with more than 10,000 initially healthy Spaniards, those who followed a Mediterranean diet most closely had more than a 30 percent reduction in the risk of depression than those whose diet had few of the Mediterranean elements.

The study, conducted by lead author Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, BPharm, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Clinic of the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, suggested that elements of the Mediterranean diet may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage--all of which could reduce the chances of developing depression.

"Our interpretation is that healthier food habits may lead to an improved brain function and consequently to a greater resilience to better face the frustrations of every day, to control stress, and to overcome personality deficits," said senior author Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, MD, PhD, MPH.

Susan Biali, M.D., a practicing medical doctor with a degree in Dietetics, concurs with this explanation. As someone who suffers from depression herself, she explained in an interview how changing to a Mediterranean diet helped her depression: "Eating these kinds of foods (lots of fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains) definitely stabilized my mood over the course of the day and gave me the energy and ability to be able to begin addressing the reasons for my depression and to make active changes in my life." 

"The combination of fiber (from vegetables, grains and legumes), high quality protein (fish), and healthy fats (e.g. olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids in fish) help to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day, helping you avoid blood sugar crashes that can increase moodiness, tearfulness, etc.  Depressed people often find it hard to eat well and frequently, and a good solid meal based on Mediterranean diet "foods" has excellent staying power and goes a long way," says Susan.

To incorporate a Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, start stocking your kitchen with these items:

Cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil. "This is one of the most health-promoting oils around," says Stella Metsovas, clinical nutritionist in private practice in Laguna Beach, California. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols. Olive oil provides the brain with nutrient-protective properties.

Omega-3 rich fish (such as salmon and mackrel). Fish can help increase mental alertness. Poor concentration is a symptom of depression. Eating high-quality protein can be a helpful adjunct to cognitive therapy and improve one's ability to problem-solve and change their circumstances. "Omega-3 fatty acids literally boost your mood and the health of your brain," says Dr. Biali.

Leafy green vegetables, spinach, asparagus, peas and legumes. These are high in folate, which is a nutrient that is low in many people with depression. Folate supplementation has been shown to increase the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

Whole grains. Whole grains are rich sources of fiber that stabilize blood sugar and are also important for digestive health, heart health, and may protect against certain cancers.

Stock up on almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and walnuts for healthy snacks.

Fruits. Kick up your intake of fruits. Head to your farmer's market (or grocery store) and pick up tons of grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries and mangoes. These are the main traditional fruits of the Mediterranean diet. Also include avocados and olives.

"Mediterranean-like ingredients can help bring positive changes to your neurological health by consuming ingredients that 'feed' your brain," says nutritionist Stella Metsovas. As always, consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your depression treatment plan.


Mediterranean Diet Cuts Depression Risk. Reuters. October 6, 2009.


Sánchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodríguez M, Alonso A, Schlatter J, Lahortiga F, Majem LS, Martínez-González MA. Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009; 66:1090-1098.

Trichopoulou, A., Costacou, T., Bamia, C. Trichopoulous, D. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population. The New England Journal of Medicine. June 2003; Volume 348:2599-2608.