How Diet Affects Depression

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If you’re part of the 10 percent of men who suffer from depression, there’s more options than getting a prescription to Zoloft, Paxil, or Oleptro, drugs that all contain a laundry list of side effects. Among the well-studied “all-natural” things that may decrease depressive symptoms is Vitamin D, meditation, and old-fashioned therapy. But an even easier step? Change your diet.

While a junk-food diet has been previously indicated as a contributor to clinical depression, for the first time a healthy diet has been shown to actually improve mood. A newly published study shows that patients weaned off sweets, fried food, and refined meats and cereals in favor of fish, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, and veggies showed marked improvement — more than a third of patients showed signs of pulling out of major clinical depression — during a 12-week period.

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"Empty calories in a lot of our foods means you aren't getting the vitamins and minerals needed to burn for fuel and deal with the waste; it taxes your body,” says Columbia University psychiatrist and author of Eat Complete, Drew Ramsey. "And what you also get with a healthier diet are substances that help promote brain growth and resilience, he explains. For example, “fish has omega 3 fats and magnesium, beans and nuts have zinc and phytonutrients.” 

While this research involved only 67 subjects, it gives us more reason to believe that diet plays a role in treatment for depression, and one that isn't tied to a prescription. “We all know the common-sense answer: eat right, feel right,” Ramsey says. “But we’ve never had a randomized controlled clinical trial to show that diet can treat existing depression.”

Even as evidence mounts that a nutrient-dense, Mediterranean-style diet shows success in preventing depression, these kind of lifestyle changes are never as easy as they may sound.

“While the whole ‘foodie movement’ has gotten men thinking and talking about what they eat, it’s still a challenge to get men to intake more seafood and to feel satiated eating plants,” Ramsey says. A better diet doesn’t require total deprivation, he adds. “You can still have steak and potatoes — it just has to be organic grass-fed and a purple potato from a farmer’s market.”

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