Eating habits and psychological disorders

Mediterranean diet linked to lower depression and anxiety

Healthy diets are commonly linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Now research has linked dietary intake to psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

An Australian study of 1046 women, aged 20-93 years old, found that those who habitually eat vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish and wholegrain foods (a traditional diet) are less likely to have depression and anxiety disorders compared to those who consume a western diet. A western diet consisted of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer. Women who ate a traditional diet were 35% less likely to have major depression or dysthymia and 32% less likely to have anxiety disorders, whereas the western diet was linked to depressive disorders.

The ATTICA study of 853 men and women from Greece, found that more anxious men and women had different eating habits compared to those less anxious. Women who eat sweets as well as meat and meat products were more likely to be anxious while men who ate legumes and cereals were less likely to be anxious.

Depressive illness is influenced by genetic, hormonal, immunological, biochemical, and neurodegenerative factors. Diet affects each of these factors and possibly the development of depression. Inflammation is thought to play a role in the onset and maintenance of depressive disorders as well as chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Adhering to a Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrains, fish, olive oil and low fat dairy products, ensures an adequate intake of folate, B vitamins, antioxidants and healthy fats. A Mediterranean diet is linked to less inflammation compared to a western diet and may therefore protect against depression and anxiety.


Jacka FN et al. 2010. Association of Western and Traditional Diets with Depression and Anxiety in Women. Am J Psychiatry; AiA:1-7.

Sanchez-Villegas A et al. 2009. Association of the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern with the Incidence of Depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry;66(10):1090-1098.

Yannakoulia M et al. 2008. Eating habits in relation to anxiety symptoms among apparently healthy adults. A pattern analysis from the ATTICA study. Appetite; 51:519-525.

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