Diet is becoming an increasingly important factor in psychological wellbeing. We have always intuitively known that eating a healthy diet is good for us but nutritional psychiatry, a new area of research which explores the impact of diet on our mental health is starting to tell us why.
A typical Western diet high in processed foods, salt, sugar and fats and low in fibre and plant-based foods has been found to be linked to increased psychological symptoms and higher rates of disorders such as depression and anxiety. More traditional diets which contain high amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, good fats and lower amounts of meat and dairy tend to be related to lower rates of depression and anxiety. These diets are more diverse and contain higher amounts of fibre, which is good for our gut microbiome. Short-chain fatty acids, the byproducts of the breakdown of fibre in our large intestine have many health benefits.
Traditional diets also have increased amounts of polyphenols, micronutrients obtained from plant-based foods that are packed with antioxidants. One dietary approach which has been linked to lower rates of depression is the Mediterranean Diet.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
No, that doesn’t mean pizza, pasta and red wine!
Research has shown people who eat a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop depression. Studies have also found this diet to be an effective treatment approach for mild to moderate levels of depression.
The key ingredients of a traditional Mediterranean Diet are:
- An abundant variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Healthful fats such as seeds, nuts and olive oil
- Some dairy and fish
- Very little meat (both red and white) and little egg is ok
The diet does contain red wine but in much smaller quantities than most of us would drink on a typical drink with dinner. It’s important not to justify your wine habit as good for your health as it still has many negative health consequences if you overdo it.
Switching to a Mediterranean-style diet
If you want to do something for your mental health, start thinking about how you can change your eating habits! Switching to a Mediterranean-style diet could have many positive benefits, especially for your mental health.
Want to switch but don’t know where to start? How about following this 7-Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan to kick-start your switch!
7 Day Mediterranean Diet Meal Plan
- One pan-fried egg
- Whole-wheat toast
- Grilled tomatoes
- For additional calories, add another egg or some sliced avocado to the toast.
- 2 cups of mixed salad greens with cherry tomatoes and olives on top and a dressing of olive oil and vinegar
- Whole-grain pita bread
- 60 grams of hummus
- Whole-grain pizza base topped with tomato sauce, grilled vegetables, and low-fat cheese
- For added calories, you can add some shredded chicken, ham, tuna, or pine nuts to the pizza
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- Half a cup of fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, or chopped nectarines
- For additional calories, add 1–2 oz of almonds or walnuts
- Whole-grain sandwich with grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and onion
- To increase the calorie content, spread hummus or avocado on the bread before adding the fillings
- One portion of baked cod or salmon with garlic and black pepper to add flavour
- One roasted potato with olive oil and chives
- 1 cup of whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and honey
- Top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries or blueberries
- 35 grams of shredded almonds for additional calories
- Boiled white beans with spices, such as laurel, garlic, and cumin
- 1 cup of salad rockets or lettuce with an olive oil dressing and toppings of tomato, cucumber, and feta cheese
- Half to one cup of whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil, and grilled vegetables
- 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese as an optional topping
- Two-egg scramble with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
- Top with one-quarter of an avocado
- Roasted anchovies or salmon in olive oil on whole-grain toast with a sprinkling of lemon juice
- A warm salad comprising 2 cups of steamed kale and tomatoes
- 2 cups of steamed spinach with a sprinkling of lemon juice and herbs
- One boiled artichoke with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt
- Add another artichoke for a hearty, filling meal.
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt with cinnamon and honey on top
- Mix in a chopped apple and shredded almonds
- 1 cup of quinoa with bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives
- Roasted garbanzo beans with oregano and thyme
- Top with feta cheese crumbles or avocado (optional)
- 2 cups of steamed kale with tomato, cucumber, olives, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese
- A portion of grilled sardines or salmon with a slice of lemon
- Two slices of whole-grain toast with soft cheese, such as ricotta or goat cheese
- Add chopped blueberries or figs for sweetness
- 2 cups of mixed greens with tomato and cucumber
- A small portion of roasted chicken with a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon juice
- Oven-roasted mixed vegetables, such as
- sweet potato
- Toss in olive oil and heavy herbs before roasting
- 1 cup of whole-grain couscous
- Whole-grain oats with cinnamon, dates, and maple syrup
- Top with low-sugar fruits, such as raspberries or blackberries
- Stewed zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and potato in a tomato and herb sauce
- 2 cups of greens, such as arugula or spinach, with tomato, olives, and olive oil
- A small portion of white fish
- Leftover vegetable stew from lunch
(Meal Plan Source: Medical News Today)