Fruits and vegetables are continuously hailed for their health benefits; they provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals which keep us healthy. New research, published in BMC Medicine, suggests that the mind, too, can benefit from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
There are already numerous studies that reveal the benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables for body health, but now researchers are exploring the benefits of fruits and vegetables on the mind as well. This is the first time diet has been analyzed along with the risk of depression.
Three diets were compared during the study: The Mediterranean diet, the Pro-Vegetarian Dietary Pattern, and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Scoring systems were used by the participants to evaluate their adherence to the specified diets.
Foods like meats and sweets received a negative score, and nuts, fruits and vegetables were positively scored. Lead researcher Almudena Sanchez-Villegas said, “We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds. These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health. The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression.”
A total of 15,093 depression-free participants were included in the study. Questionnaires about diet were completed at the beginning of the study and once again 10 years later. The results showed that 1,550 participants developed depression or used antidepressants by the follow-up 8.5 years later.
The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the lowest risk of developing depression, and is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet. Both diets have a strong focus on omega-3, nuts, and fruits and vegetables with moderate alcohol intake.
Almudena Sanchez-Villegas added, “A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets.”
Study limitations reveal diet adherence and depression diagnosis were self-reported, thus further research is required regarding the topic of association between diet and depression.
More info: Easy tips to eat more fruits and vegetables