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Can the Mediterranean Diet Reduce the Risk of Depression?

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people consume in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, France, and Spain. The diet is primarily composed of plant-based foods that include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and unsaturated fat like olive oil. The diet also includes dairy, fish, and other seafood, but in moderation. Sweets and red meat are only to be consumed occasionally.(1, 2, 3)

Research has shown that people of the Mediterranean countries were exceptionally healthy and also had a lower risk of many chronic health conditions.(4, 5) Several studies have found that the Mediterranean diet can promote healthy weight loss and prevent heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, stroke and premature death.(6) For this reason, the Mediterranean diet is widely recommended to people who want to enhance their health and also protect against chronic diseases.

While the diet already has many benefits associated with it, new research now shows that the Mediterranean diet can help decrease inflammation in the body, thus helping to reduce the risk of depression.

Can the Mediterranean Diet Reduce the Risk of Depression?

Your diet is such an important part of your mental health that it has given rise to an entirely new field of medicine known as nutritional psychiatry.

A study from 2019 found that following a Mediterranean diet can help lower the risk for depression. According to the research study, which was published in the Molecular Psychiatry Journal, a diet low in saturated fat, processed foods, and sugar can significantly lower the risk of depression by almost 234 percent during a period of 12 years. (7)

The research team carried out a meta-analysis of over 1.5 million healthy adults to reach this conclusion. The researchers said that the analysis showed that following a Mediterranean diet was also linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, along with overall mortality.(8, 9) The study made use of a wide variety of dietary measures, including the different measures of adherence to the Healthy Eating Index, the Mediterranean Diet, the Dietary Inflammatory Index, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.(10, 11, 12)

The study found that there was a link between lower inflammatory index with lower depression incidence in four of the longitudinal studies.

At the same time, the Mediterranean diet is also associated with a lower occurrence of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.(13, 14, 15)

It has also been observed that women who consume a Mediterranean diet which is rich in extra virgin olive oil and mixed nuts on a regular basis, have a significantly reduced risk of breast cancer.(16)

Due to this, many scientific and medical organizations actively encourage healthy adults to follow a pattern of eating that is similar to that of the Mediterranean diet.

As the research carried out by the University College London found, people who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of developing depression over the next eight to 12 years as compared to those whose eating patterns least adhered to the Mediterranean diet.

Can Your Diet Play A Role in Mental Health Prevention?

Yes, what you eat goes a long way in determining the status of your mental health. In contrast to what the study found, people who consume a diet high in sugar, processed food, and saturated fat are at a higher risk of developing depression. The research team even suggested that dietary advice should be an essential part of any mental health treatment.

So if you feel that you can cope with depression by lying on the couch and munching on a box of doughnuts or a packet of chips, it is unlikely to make you feel any better. There is a close link between healthy eating and depression. At the same time, remember that healthy eating also includes avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol.

To improve your mental health, the general guidelines of the Mediterranean diet recommends that people consume the following:

  • A wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Healthy fats l9ike nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
  • Very little white meat and red meat.
  • Include some eggs.
  • Have moderate amounts of fish and dairy.
  • Drink red wine in moderation.


Overall the study found that what we eat has a profound role to play in increasing or decreasing our risk of depression. Consuming a plant-based diet that closely adheres to the Mediterranean diet can be helpful. But, apart from your diet, you should ideally follow the SEE approach, which stands for Sleep, eating, and Exercise. Improving all three areas of your life will improve your ability to lead an overall healthier lifestyle.

The same recommendation holds true for improving your mental health as well. It is important to avoid foods that increase inflammation in the body. As inflammation affects the brain and it also changes vasculation, increasing insulin resistance in the body. There is a lot of evidence available today that suggests the very important relationship between the gut and the brain and its role in your mental health. This is why it is so important to watch what you eat. Following a Mediterranean diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, nuts, and seeds, can help reduce inflammation, thus also reducing the risk of depression.


  1. Lăcătușu, C.M., Grigorescu, E.D., Floria, M., Onofriescu, A. and Mihai, B.M., 2019. The mediterranean diet: From an environment-driven food culture to an emerging medical prescription. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(6), p.942.
  2. Belahsen, R. and Rguibi, M., 2006. Population health and Mediterranean diet in southern Mediterranean countries. Public health nutrition, 9(8A), pp.1130-1135.
  3. Keys, A., 1995. Mediterranean diet and public health: personal reflections. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 61(6), pp.1321S-1323S.
  4. Davis, C., Bryan, J., Hodgson, J. and Murphy, K., 2015. Definition of the Mediterranean diet; a literature review. Nutrients, 7(11), pp.9139-9153.
  5. Simopoulos, A.P., 2001. The Mediterranean diets: what is so special about the diet of Greece? The scientific evidence. The Journal of nutrition, 131(11), pp.3065S-3073S. Tosti, V., Bertozzi, B. and Fontana, L., 2018. Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: metabolic and molecular mechanisms. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 73(3), pp.318-326.
  6. Lassale, C., Batty, G.D., Baghdadli, A., Jacka, F., Sánchez-Villegas, A., Kivimäki, M. and Akbaraly, T., 2019. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Molecular psychiatry, 24(7), pp.965-986.
  7. Sofi, F., Macchi, C., Abbate, R., Gensini, G.F. and Casini, A., 2013. Mediterranean diet and health. Biofactors, 39(4), pp.335-342.
  8. Hu, F.B., 2003. The Mediterranean diet and mortality-olive oil and beyond. New England Journal of Medicine, 348(26), pp.2595-2596.
  9. T KENNEDY, E.I.L.E.E.N., Ohls, J., Carlson, S. and Fleming, K., 1995. The healthy eating index: design and applications. Journal of the American dietetic association, 95(10), pp.1103-1108.
  10. Hébert, J.R., Shivappa, N., Wirth, M.D., Hussey, J.R. and Hurley, T.G., 2019. Perspective: the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII)—lessons learned, improvements made, and future directions. Advances in Nutrition, 10(2), pp.185-195.
  11. Sacks, F.M., Moore, T.J., Appel, L.J., Obarzanek, E., Cutler, J.A., Vollmer, W.M., Vogt, T.M., Karanja, N., Svetkey, L.P., Lin, P.H. and Bray, G.A., 1999. A dietary approach to prevent hypertension: a review of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study. Clinical cardiology, 22(S3), pp.6-10.
  12. Barak, Y. and Fridman, D., 2017. Impact of Mediterranean diet on cancer: Focused literature review. Cancer Genomics & Proteomics, 14(6), pp.403-408.
  13. Alcalay, R.N., Gu, Y., Mejia‐Santana, H., Cote, L., Marder, K.S. and Scarmeas, N., 2012. The association between Mediterranean diet adherence and Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders, 27(6), pp.771-774.
  14. Sofi, F., Macchi, C., Abbate, R., Gensini, G.F. and Casini, A., 2010. Effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet: can it help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease?. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, 20(3), pp.795-801.
  15. Turati, F., Carioli, G., Bravi, F., Ferraroni, M., Serraino, D., Montella, M., Giacosa, A., Toffolutti, F., Negri, E., Levi, F. and La Vecchia, C., 2018. Mediterranean diet and breast cancer risk. Nutrients, 10(3), p.326.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 19, 2022

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