Mediterranean diet can ease depression symptoms

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Eating foods that are good for your heart may be good for your mood.

Researchers at Australia's Deakin University put dozens of volunteers with major depression on a Mediterranean-style diet. For three months, they ate lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and nuts, cutting back on meat, dairy, and processed foods.

"And over that time period about a third of people noticed a significant improvement in their depressive symptoms," says Emory Internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist.

She says the findings that 30 percent of the volunteers felt better, just by eating healthier, may give millions struggling with depression another viable treatment option to try: food.

"I think combining nutrition with psychiatry is really important," Dr. Berquist says. "Because a lot of people that are battling depression also experience a lot of side effects from medications."

The study participants changed their diet, but kept taking their medication, and continued their talk therapy.

"So the study isn't saying you can replace your medications for depression with a diet," Bergquist explains.

"But it is saying that using diet can be a very powerful way to help in the treatment of depression."

So why choose a Mediterranean-style diet?

It's thought to reduce inflammation in the body and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

And, Berquist says, it makes sense that a diet that good for our hearts might also be good for our brains.

"What doesn't help for depression and mental health is when you take a single ingredient, like a superfood to your diet, hoping that adding one ingredient or taking away one particular ingredient is going to make a difference," she says.  "Studies that tried to do that haven’t found consistent results."

Instead, Dr. Berquist says try eating a healthier diet overall.

You can start she says, by making sure you're eating at least one vegetable or fruit with every meal.