The transition from adolescence to adulthood can be tumultuous. Young men in particular, can be at risk because they typically don’t seek help for mental health issues like depression. This is also a time when young people begin to become more independent, which often includes preparing and cooking their own meals. Could this be leveraged to help boost young men’s protection against depression? This question has been investigated by researchers from the University of Technology Sydney in a recent study.
Around 75 young men between the ages of 18 and 24 who had recently been diagnosed with depression were randomised into two groups. The control group, got a simplified version of therapy where they were able to chat about their life and interests with a researcher. The other group were allocated to meet with a nutritionist regularly who helped them eat a Mediterranean diet.
There’s been a lot of recent evidence showing positive health outcomes for those who follow the Mediterranean dietary pattern, which is typically rich in vegetables, wholegrains, legumes and olive oil; low in processed foods and red meat; and has a cuisine which cooks at moderate heat with bioactive rich mixtures such as extra virgin olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, tomato and other red and orange vegetables. In some groups, it’s been shown to have an effect on depression scores which is what researchers were hoping to see in this study.
After 12 weeks, the researchers found that both groups lowered their rates of depression, but the effect was stronger in the group following the Mediterranean diet. The mean depression score change was 20.6 versus 6.2 in the general therapy group. Almost 40 per cent of the young men in the Mediterranean diet group saw their depression score fall to between zero and 10 (which means low or minimal depression). No-one in the other group had a final score below 10 at the end of the study period.
Getting people to stick to diets is tricky, so it’s not clear whether these changes can be maintained long-term. And it’s also hard to tease out how much of an effect could be due to the Mediterranean diet in particular, versus reductions in poor diet generally – that is, was the Mediterranean diet responsible for reduced rates of depression, or was it just that it replaced and removed junk food from the diet? But this study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting a clear link between food and mood and that a Mediterranean diet might be one piece of the puzzle in helping to protect against depression in young people. The reason may be in microbiome oil directly from the absorption of these bioactive compounds.
According to other research from Italy, the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet extends to other areas such as longevity, cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart disease, heart attack, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and diabetes.
For further information about the Mediterranean diet including tips and a sample meal plan visit