More and more studies are finding that the “Mediterranean diet” significantly reduces the symptoms of depression. One recent meta-analysis of more than 40 studies of diet and depression found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet were 33 percent less likely to suffer from depression. On the other hand, people who ate a diet high in processed foods, alcohol, and trans fat were more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms. Inflammation seems to be a major factor. While processed foods, alcohol, and trans fats increase inflammation, leading to many of the symptoms typical of depression, the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation in addition to providing a wide variety of nutrients. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, adopting a Mediterranean diet will likely help. However, changing how you eat is easier said than done. Here are some suggestions for making the switch.
Switch to whole grains.
Perhaps the easiest switch to make is to exchange refined flour for whole grains. That means eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread, whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta, and oatmeal instead of sugary cereal. These kinds of substitutions are easy to make but they make a big difference. They are more nutritious and the higher fiber content makes you digest them more slowly, which keeps you feeling full longer and moderates blood sugar swings that can cause lethargy and irritability.
Make plants the main dish.
In the US, we typically think of a meal as a piece of meat with some other stuff on the side. However, the Mediterranean diet is more sparing with meat. The focus is more on vegetable dishes. A wide variety of vegetables will cover your nutritional requirements, supply plenty of fiber, and reduce your calories and fat intake. Start by replacing the meat in one meal a day with a vegetable protein, such as beans, hummus, lentils, or chickpeas. Also, add a serving of vegetables to every meal.
Have some fish.
When meat is included in Mediterranean meals, it’s typically fish. Fish is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, which are good for your heart and brain. Most people only need to eat fish once or twice a week to get the benefits. Salmon, herring, and sardines are great sources of omega-3s. Stay away from swordfish, shark, and mackerel, which have a high mercury content.
While many people think the health benefits of the diet are all in the food, context matters too. Eating with friends and taking your time reduces stress and makes you feel more connected to others. Staying active during the day, such as walking instead of driving whenever possible is important too.
Go healthy for dessert.
If you eat a healthy meal of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and grilled fish, don’t ruin it with a dessert full of sugar and fat. Instead, go for some fresh fruit, or a fruit-based dessert with minimal sugar.
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