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Med-style diet may help depression symptoms in young men

Mediterranean diet ingredient - vegetables, nuts, oily fish, olive oil

The Mediterranean diet is famous for providing a wide range of physical health benefits, and now a new study shows young men with depression may help improve their symptoms by switching to this eating pattern.

The 12-week randomised control clinical trial is the first of its kind to assess the impact of a Mediterranean diet on depression symptoms in young men (aged 18-25).

The trial showed participants who followed a Med-style diet had significant improvements in scales that measure depression and quality of life compared with a control group that undertook befriending therapy.

Also, the participants receiving the Mediterranean diet intervention stuck to it at a significantly higher rate than those who received the befriending therapy intervention.

Lead researcher Jessica Bayes says it was a surprise to see how willing the young men were to give the new diet a go.

“Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were able to significantly change their original diets, under the guidance of a nutritionist, over a short time frame,” Bayes says.

“It suggests that medical doctors and psychologists should consider referring depressed young men to a nutritionist or dietitian as an important component of treating clinical depression,” she says.

A Mediterranean diet is plant-focused, rich in colourful vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, oily fish, olive oil and nuts, while keeping red meat and ultra-processed foods to a minimum.

“There are lots of reasons why, scientifically, we think food affects mood. For example, around 90 per cent of serotonin, a chemical that helps us feel happy, is made in our gut by our gut microbes. There is emerging evidence that these microbes can communicate to the brain via the vagus nerve, in what is called the gut-brain axis,” Bayes explains.

A healthy gut microbiome relies on fibre from fruit, veggies and legumes.

Keeping to a minimum alcohol and processed foods that are high in refined carbs, saturated fat and sugar also helps support gut health.

Bayes says many of the participants were keen to continue with the Med-style eating pattern, even after the study ended.

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