Several recent studies show that a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains may not only help prevent major depression, but also treat it once it has started.

Reported by the Wall Street Journal, the first study was published in the January 2017 issue of BMC Medicine. A team of researchers led by epidemiologist Felice Jacka at Deakin University in Australia looked at the impact diet had on the mood of 67 people with major depression. Some participants were already being treated with antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a mixture of both.

In the study, half of the participants were given nutritional counseling from a dietician while the other half was given one-on-one social support in the form of someone to spend time with, which has been shown to help some people battling depression. The results after 12 weeks showed that participants who ate a healthy diet reported happier moods than those who received social support. Similar results were found in a second, larger study, where participants experienced a boost in mood that lasted for six months.

Plant-Based Foods May Help Fight Depression, Studies Show

Another study conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, found that adults were less prone to depression if they included a lot of whole, plant-based foods in their diet and avoided fewer processed and animal-based foods. The results will be presented later this month in Los Angeles at the Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting.

The focus on the effects that diet may have on mental health, dubbed “nutritional psychiatry,” is a recent development in the medical world. In 2013, Dr. Jacka, co-founded the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, which aims to grow the field by taking a multi-disciplinary approach to research.

Jacka also founded the Food and Mood Center at Deakin University, a collaborative research center that studies how diet influences mental health. The Wall Street Journal also reports that the American Psychiatric Association has begun including presentions on nutritional psychiatry at their annual conference.

While there are a number of other factors that contribute to mental illness such as genetics, economic status, race, gender identity, and more, a growing number of studies point to the fact that a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods may not only help prevent, but also combat symptoms of depression. Beyond having a positive impact on mental health, eating less meat may also decrease one’s risk of developing many physical illnesses, such as heart disease.


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