The holidays can really throw off the good eating habits we’ve established all year. And sometimes it’s hard to get back on track in the new year. So here’s some motivation: It might help to know the hows and whys behind healthy eating and its impact on our bodies and minds.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that eating junk food isn’t good for you. And you also might know that a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and fish can improve your mental well-being. But there’s research to suggest that some healthy diets may be better than others.
Is there a “best” diet for mental health?
Researchers analyzed 41 studies that assessed the impact of various diets on clinical depression and crowned the Mediterranean diet the best of them all.
The Mediterranean diet’s inclusion of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, dairy products, cereals, beans, fish, poultry, and moderate amounts of red meat and wine have garnered acclaim in this study. And another expert-led analysis of 40 diets found the Mediterranean diet ideal for heart health, abundance of plant-based meals, and its relative ease to follow.
One reason for the Mediterranean diet’s plaudits stems from its ability to fight inflammation.
Associate Professor and author of Eat Complete Drew Ramsey attributes the Mediterranean diet plaudits to its ability to help fight inflammation and improve our gut microbiomes (which research suggests influences depression). “Molecules that are responsible for inflammation influence things like your mood and energy levels,” says Ramsey. “For example, inflammation gets in the way of the brain’s self-repair process. Many antidepressant medications are also powerful anti-inflammatories that spur brain growth.”
Does following the “best” diet matter?
But, if you’re not a devotee of the Mediterranean diet, the good news is that every diet showed a positive impact on depression. “The big take home for individuals and for our mental health care systems is that food matters,” says Ramsey. Stick to healthy foods and avoid inflammatory ones to protect against depression. Yes, the Mediterranean diet has a lot of those foods but those foods can also be found in other diets and healthy eating guides as well.
What foods are best for mental health?
Ramsey studied the foods highest in nutrients associated with preventing or relieving depression. The full list of foods is here, but vegetables, organ meats, fruits, and seafood are in the top four categories.
To be fair, nutrition is only part of the whole picture when understanding and improving mental health. But for the new year and our mental health, it’s one great reason to eat better.
For help or questions on your diet, healthy eating and its impact on mental health or fitness goals in the new year, schedule an appointment with Dr. Sonja Stilp.