When you're in the throes of a clinical depression, a few slices of pizza or a buttery chardonnay may seem like the ideal antidote. But research—and real life—have repeatedly shown that carbs and booze only make things worse.
According to a major study, which looked at over 15,000 participants for a decade, the truth is less delicious. A group of researchers in Spain claim to have discovered a measurable link between diet and depression. More specifically, they found that eating a diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and low in processed meat can actually prevent the onset of clinical depression.
"This is, to our knowledge, the first time that several dietary patterns reflecting overall diet quality have been compared in the same cohort in relation to depression risk," said the research team, which was made up of nutritionists, doctors, and psychologists.
The research article, which was titled "A longitudinal analysis of diet quality scores and the risk of incident depression in the SUN Project" and published in the journal BMC Medicine, also found that "the protective dietary patterns associated with reduced risk of depression are those patterns emphasizing seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts."
In order to come to these results, they compared three diets; the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010.
They asked the 15,093 participants fill out questionnaires about their diet and then followed up with them for the good part of a decade.
Lead researcher Almudena Sanchez-Villegas of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria told Science Daily that he and his co-authors 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."
Unlike a lot of studies which look at treatment, this one was is distinct in that it focuses on prevent mental health issues from arising in the first place. "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," Sanchez-Villegas said.
And while these results are interesting, they aren't fully conclusive. "Further large prospective studies and trials to confirm this hypothesis are needed to provide effective population strategies for using dietary patterns in the prevention of depression," said the study authors.
In the meantime, take another look at your salad. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in matters of mental health, an ounce of greens may be worth may be worth more than a pound of cake.