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Mediterranean Diet: Eating for Mental Health

We know that what we eat impacts our mental health. And, that eating the right things can contribute to mitigating the effects of stress. Consuming the proper nutrients can also help prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. But how do we know what to eat to insure we are getting the proper nutrients? First let’s look at what it means to eat a “healthy diet”. Then we will see why eating a Mediterranean Diet can benefit mental health.

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy diet is one that provides the body with all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to function properly. Therefore, it should include a variety of foods from all the major food groups in the right proportions.

Healthy food groups include:

Fruits and vegetables: These are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and should make up a significant portion of your diet.

Whole grains: These provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals and should be chosen over refined grains. Brown rice, whole wheat, steel cut oats, and barley are examples of whole grains. Refined grains include white rice and white flour.

Lean protein sources: These include poultry, fish, beans, and nuts.

Low-fat dairy products: These are a good source of protein, calcium and other important nutrients.

Healthy fats: These include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts, and fish.
It’s also important to limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Harvard Food Pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet

A good road map for healthful eating is the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional dietary patterns of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. There are different versions of Mediterranean eating based on country. It is characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil with fish and seafood consumed in moderation and low to moderate consumption of dairy products and poultry. Red meat and sweets are consumed infrequently. This Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with many health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, lower risk of cancer, and better mental health including lower rates of depression.

Anti-inflammatory foods vs chronic inflammation

One of the key reasons for this is the anti-inflammatory properties of the foods that are included in the Mediterranean Diet. Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of many chronic diseases, including depression and anxiety. Consequently, foods that are rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, can help reduce inflammation in the body and therefore improve mental health.

Omega-3 fatty acids

In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, the Mediterranean Diet is also rich in several nutrients that are important for brain health. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high amounts in fish and seafood, have been linked to better mental health outcomes. Several studies have found that omega-3 supplementation may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and may even improve cognitive function in older adults.

Carbohydrates are good for the brain

The Mediterranean Diet is also high in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and legumes. Complex carbohydrates provide a steady source of glucose to the brain. This is important because the brain relies heavily on glucose for energy. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect mood and cognitive function. Therefore, by providing a steady source of glucose to the brain, the Mediterranean Diet may help stabilize mood and improve cognitive function.

Some examples of typical Mediterranean foods include:

Fruits: Apples, oranges, bananas, berries, grapes, pears, citrus fruits, etc.

Vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, spinach, broccoli, etc.

Whole grains: Brown rice, whole wheat bread, pasta, quinoa, couscous, etc.

Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas, etc.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, etc.

Fish and seafood: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, etc.

Poultry: Chicken, turkey, etc.

Dairy products: Yogurt, cheese, etc.

Herbs and spices: Basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, etc.

Olive oil: A key component of the Mediterranean diet, used for cooking and as a dressing for salads.

Mediterranean diet vs western diet

Eat what is good for you and avoid what is bad for you

These are just some examples of the many healthy foods that are part of a Mediterranean diet. Ideally, eat some of all of these foods every day. In addition, eat fresh vegetables in abundance. Eat red meat sparingly only once or twice a week. Eat refined grains like white rice and white flour very sparingly. It wouldn’t hurt to avoid them altogether. The key is to focus on whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients and low in unhealthy fats and added sugars.

In other words, eat things that are good for you like lots of fruits and vegetables and other whole unprocessed foods. Likewise, avoid things that are bad for you like chips and other packaged snack foods, white flour, anything with added sugar, processed packaged foods like lunchmeat and boxed macaroni & cheese. These foods are high in calories but low in beneficial nutrients.

Eat mostly plants

In conclusion, you don’t need to follow any particular diet plan for the best physical and mental health. The Mediterranean diet offers a road map for healthy eating. Basically, eat lots of dark green, orange, yellow, and red foods. Also, focus on eating plant foods in their natural form. In other words, the way they grow and are plucked from the plant, tree, or ground. The freshest, least processed, foods generally have the most nutrients. Most importantly, eating a nutrient-rich, balanced diet is our goal for optimum health and regulating mood.

2 Responses to “Mediterranean Diet: Eating for Mental Health”

  1. Kim Newton says:

    this is good, but canola and corn no very unhelathy, Live and coconut and avocado yes definately.!! And low fat dairy, no ,its better to have full fat so you eat more fat soluble vitamins that are absorbed by your body. And some of those wheat flour break down to sugar, quinoa and millet can be better alternatives

  2. admin says:

    You make some very good points, Kim! I definitely agree with you about the oil. I don’t use canola or corn oil. Whole wheat will break down to sugar to a much lesser degree than white (wheat) flour because of the fiber. But I also agree that whole grains in their natural state are better alternatives to those ground into flour. The fat content of dairy products largely comes down to personal preference. As long as there is *some fat, the fat soluble nutrients can be absorbed. For that reason I don’t recommend fat-free dairy. Thanks for your comments!

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