Mediterranean diets featuring fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish could help lower the risk of depression, according to new research.
University College London analysed data from dozens of studies examining the link between eating habits and mental health, including four looking at a traditional Mediterranean diet.
People adhering to a food plan that closely resembles such a diet were found to be 33% less likely to develop depression than those whose whose diet were least similar to one.
The study – published in Molecular Psychiatry – recommends diets rich with fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts – all of which boast hefty amounts of plant fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Foods high in saturated fats could increase the risk of depression.
Dr Camille Lassale, lead author the study, said: “There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health.
“This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood.
“We aggregated results from a large number of studies and there is a clear pattern that following a healthier, plant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet can help in the prevention of depression.”
Five of the studies taken into account by the researchers looked at the the impact of an inflammatory foods diet on mental health in 32,908 adults across the world.
Diets low in saturated fat, sugar and processed food were linked with a 24% reduced risk of developing depression over the next five to 12 years.
Dr Lassale explained: “A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression.
“There is also emerging evidence that shows that the relationship between the gut and brain plays a key role in mental health and that this axis is modulated by gastrointestinal bacteria, which can be modified by our diet.”
Co-author Tasnime Akbaraly said the results meant “there are now strong arguments” for diet to be considered as part of the treatment of mental health.
She added: “This is of importance at a patient’s level, but also at public health level, especially in a context where poor diet is now recognised to be the leading cause of early death across middle and high-income countries and at the same time mental disorders as the leading cause of disability.”