Fresh research has found that just three weeks of healthy eating improves depression symptoms in young adults.
The study, published by Australian researchers this week, looked at how changes to 101 young adults’ diets impacted their mental health. Those involved in the study – aged 17 to 35 – many of them university students – were experiencing depression and were eating what the study deemed unhealthy diets.
Half of the participants started eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meat, and experienced significantly lower depression symptoms after three weeks than the group which stuck with the normal diet.
The research is one of many studies that link a healthy diet to improved mental health, but this study is considered one of the most reliable yet.
Before the study, all volunteers shared information about their eating habits and mood. They all had symptoms of what is considered moderate or high levels of depression, and all ate a lot of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and sugar.
The group that changed their diets for the study were shown a video detailing recommendations around healthy eating – including aspects of Mediterranean-style diets and foods that are known to be good for the brain (such as foods with omega-3, cinnamon and turmeric).
They were instructed to have a particularly high intake of fruits and vegetables – three and five servings respectively – and to cut down on refined carbohydrates, sugar, fatty or processed meats and soft drinks. To cover their costs, volunteers were each given a hamper and a weekly food budget.
After three weeks, the group that had started eating healthily saw their levels of depression, anxiety and stress fall significantly. Those who kept eating the same did not report any changes to their mood.
The researchers wrote: ‘These findings add to a growing literature showing a modest change to diet is a useful adjunct therapy to reduce symptoms of depression.’
This research may provide some comfort to those experiencing depression who are able to alter their diet – but mental health is complicated.
All kinds of factors – including biology, poverty and experience of oppression such as racism – impact a person’s likelihood to face mental health challenges.
Whilst eating more healthily may improve some people’s symptoms, other remedies include talking therapies, medication, and being in nature.
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