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Healthy eating may improve mental health

Two people sharing a healthy spread: Salad, peppers, herbs, cherry tomatoes, a bit of cheese.

March 7, 2019—Healthy eating isn't just good for your body. It might be good for your mood if you're feeling down or depressed, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at data on nearly 46,000 people who had taken part in 16 previous studies that looked at the effects of diet on depression symptoms. The dietary patterns followed in those studies focused on shedding excess pounds, boosting nutrition or reducing dietary fat.

Eating for mood

So what kind of diet worked best for mental health? All three types of dietary improvements—fewer calories, more nutrients and less fat—appeared equally good at easing the symptoms of depression. And that's good news, because it means people might not have to follow a highly specific meal plan to improve their mood, one researcher noted. Instead, turning away from junk food and making simple changes, like these, might help:

  • Eating more fiber-rich foods and veggies.
  • Cutting back on convenience foods and refined sugars (like sweets).

It's important to note that most of the people in the previous studies had nonclinical depression. So while they had symptoms of depression, they hadn't actually been diagnosed with the condition. Even so, following a healthier diet seemed to lift the participants' low spirits. And there was more. When they combined eating well with exercising (another known mood-lifter), they felt even better.

But how?

The researchers aren't sure how healthier eating might help people feel less depressed. But they suspected that it might be through reducing obesity, fatigue or inflammation. These have been linked to diet and may affect mental health, according to the research team.

The study appeared in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Improve your plate

Want to start eating better today? You can begin by making your favorite foods a little healthier.

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