There’s a reason we often use the phrase “you are what you eat.” This phrase comes from the fact that what we put into our bodies directly affects how we feel. So if we eat nutrient-rich foods, we’re more likely to feel energetic, find it easier to concentrate, and be in a good mood. Similarly, if we eat processed foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt, we’ll probably feel sluggish, tired, unmotivated, and even depressed.
A recent study has shown how the Mediterranean diet can affect the symptoms of depression. This 12-week study compared the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet with befriending therapy, in which patients were introduced to others with similar mental health issues. Amazingly, the new diet plan proved to be significantly more helpful in alleviating patients’ depression symptoms than befriending therapy. Studies like this highlight the important role food plays in our mental health as well as our physical health.
Read on as we explore what the Mediterranean diet consists of, who usually follows this diet, and how food in general impacts our physical and mental health.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet consists of fresh produce, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and olive oil. High in nutrients coming from these healthy foods, the Mediterranean diet is low in processed food and high in antioxidants. This diet is also linked with several health benefits and has been reported to promote heart health and regulate weight and blood sugar levels. Aside from the clean physical health benefits, this lifestyle is also known to protect cognitive function, maintaining good attention, processing speed, and memory among adults.
The Mediterranean diet is not strict, but here are some guidelines which may be helpful:
What to eat plenty of: fruit and vegetables like bananas, carrots figs, onions, peaches, potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes. You should also eat whole grains, nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, seeds, legumes, fish and seafood, herbs and spices, and extra virgin olive oil.
What to eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, and low-fat dairy.
What to eat rarely or not at all: processed meat, red meat, sugar-sweetened foods or foods with added sugars, refined grains like white bread and white pasta, refined oils, and all other heavily processed foods. It’s also good to avoid convenience foods and ready meals.
In terms of beverages, the Mediterranean diet focuses on water. This may be because such diets are followed in warmer countries like Italy, Spain, Greece, and France. Some people on this diet drink black tea and many drink black coffee. This diet also incorporates a small amount of red wine- usually about a small glass a day.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.