The Mediterranean Diet -could it reduce symptoms of depression?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Aug 31, 07:57 AM in and . No comments.

by Laura Reilly, MSc Food, Nutrition & Health

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is considered to be the leading cause of disability worldwide (1). Depression is a very complex issue, with many factors related to the onset and maintenance of this condition. Included amongst these factors is nutrition. Many studies have found that having a ‘healthy’ diet may be beneficial to those suffering from symptoms of depression (2). One diet that has been extensively researched in terms of its health benefits – both to heart health and mental health, is the Mediterranean diet.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

While many countries around the Mediterranean have different diets, the “Mediterranean Diet” refers to the traditional diet of Greece before 1960, which the diet of Crete represents best (3). In comparison to a “western diet”, (which is typically high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and animal proteins and low in fibre), the Mediterranean diet consists of:

- A higher intake of fruit, vegetables and pulses/legumes
- Olive oil and olives as the main source of fat
- Lower intake of red meat and processed foods
- Wholegrain cereals mainly in the form of bread (2)
- Moderate amounts of dairy – primary dairy intake from cheese
- Plenty of nuts
- More fish, especially oily fish
- Moderate amounts of red wine

Following the Mediterranean diet means you are getting a rich source of antioxidants, “good” fats (omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids), B vitamins, folate, vitamins E and C, calcium, zinc, and selenium.

Shouldn’t I be limiting my fat intake for a healthy diet?

The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated and trans fats, and high in unsaturated fatty acids.

Saturated and trans fats can be found in foods such as butter, coconut oil and ghee, cured meats, fatty cuts of meats or processed meats such as sausages, many desserts and processed foods. It is recommended that we limit these fats.

Unsaturated fats, however, are considered ‘healthy’ fats as they are important for hormone production, healthy brain function and they protect against heart disease. It’s important to include sources of unsaturated fats in our diet (e.g. seeds, nuts, olive oil, avocados and oily fish). The Mediterranean diet provides just the right type of fats.

Could the Mediterranean Diet help my Mood?

New research has indicated that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce symptoms in people with or at risk of depression. (2) Researchers in Spain looked at the diets of 3,062 people, with or at risk of depression, to investigate how they related to their symptoms.

The researchers found that individuals who followed the Mediterranean diet more diligently, displayed lower levels of depressive symptoms than those who didn’t. The high intake of food groups such as nuts, vegetables and olive oil in particular had a strong influence on the lowering of these symptoms. This study also found that a higher consumption of sugary drinks and red meats – less adherence to the Mediterranean diet – was related to a higher presence of depressive symptoms.

Specifically, the study found that subjects who:

- Usually cooked with olive oil
- Ate 3 or more servings of nuts a week
- Ate less than one serve of red meat a day
- Drank less than one carbonated or sugary drink a day

had fewer symptoms of depression.

So what can we conclude?

These findings don’t mean following the Mediterranean diet will cure depression, nor can we say that not following the Mediterranean diet will worsen depressive symptoms. Depression is a very complex issue. However, what these results do show us, is that following the Mediterranean diet may reduce the severity of depressive symptoms. It also highlights how important following a healthy diet can be for people showing depressive symptoms.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most researched diets out there and there is much we can take from it. Following this type of diet brings many health benefits – for our heart, our brain function and also our mood. If you are looking to improve your dietary habits and your mood – why not try following a Mediterranean-style diet? Here are some tips below!

- Eat 5+ sources of fruit and veg daily – especially leafy green veg
- Use olive or rapeseed oil as your cooking fat
- Increase your intake of seeds and nuts (add to smoothies, salads, porridge, yoghurts or eat as a snack)
- Swap red meats for lean white meats or oily fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel


World Health Organisation (WHO). Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates; World Health Organisation: Geneva, Switzerland, 2017.
Oliván-Blázquez B, Aguilar-Latorre A, Motrico E, Gómez-Gómez I, Zabaleta-del-Olmo E, Couso-Viana S, et al. The Relationship between Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, Intake of Specific Foods and Depression in an Adult Population (45–75 Years) in Primary Health Care. A Cross-Sectional Descriptive Study. Nutrients, 2021, 13(8):2724.
Artemis P. Simopoulos. The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence, The Journal of Nutrition, 2001, 131, 11.

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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