Diet has an impact on the psyche, previous research has shown. But can depression be improved with the right diet? How is that diet? This is now examined in a systematic review that focused on whole foods in interventions to improve depression.
Diet for depression: are whole foods helpful?
We reviewed studies involving adults, in which a recognized depression scale was used to determine the effects of whole foods or corresponding nutritional interventions. Studies were identified from the APA PsychINFO, CINAHL, Cochrance Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE and Scopus medical sciences databases. The authors checked the quality of the respective study using a special checklist (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Quality Criteria Checklist).
Systematic review: 7 studies, 50 thousand participants
Seven studies with a total of 49,156 participants could be considered. Three of these studies were conducted in Australia, two in the US, and the rest in Korea and the UK. Between 25 and 48,835 people participated in the individual studies. The investigations lasted from ten days to one year, with the majority of the investigations (n = 4) carried out for two to three months.
All interventions were diet related, with either a whole food intervention (four studies) or whole food based interventions targeting specific ingredients (three studies: tryptophan, flavonoids or polyphenols). Most of the studies (n=6) were conducted under the guidance of nutritionists.
- Mediterranean diet (fresh fruits and vegetables, normal fish, olive oil); two studies
- Reduced fat (to 20 percent of total caloric intake), plus whole grains, fruits, and vegetables: one study
- Diet according to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating: a study
- Eating More Tryptophan-Rich Foods (eg, Peanuts, Chicken, Cottage Cheese, Oatmeal): A Study
- Foods rich in polyphenols (eg fruits, vegetables, cocoa) and flavonoids (eg apples, pears, berries): one study each
All studies found positive effects of the interventions on the severity of depressive symptoms. The effects were partly small, partly very large, but could not be fully analyzed due to the very different structure of the studies.
Improve through fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain products and low animal fat.
The analysis revealed very different approaches to studying the effects of diet on depression. In general, a whole foods diet, in which particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and reduced amounts of animal fat are essential, as well as a reduction in highly processed and particularly high-fat foods, appeared to be psychologically beneficial.
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Author: O’Neill S, Minehan M, Knight-Agarwal CR, Turner M. Is depression treatable in adults through dietary interventions? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. nutrients 2022 March 27; 14 (7): 1398. doi: 10.3390/nu14071398. PMID: 35406011; PMCID: PMC9003461.