Comfort foods like chocolate can give you a temporary emotional boost. But if you're looking to stave off depression in the long term, you may want to choose an apple instead.
A new study from Spain found that a diet high in fruits, veggies and nuts — but low in unhealthy foods like processed meats — may significantly reduce the risk of depression.
"These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health," said lead study author Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, PhD, a professor of public health, nutrition and dietetics of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in a press release.
For this study, Dr. Sanchez-Villegas and team followed more than 15,000 adults who were not diagnosed with depression at the study's start.
Patients were given scores based on how closely their diets aligned with three known healthy diets: a Mediterranean diet, a mostly vegetarian diet and another healthy eating plan.
The Mediterranean diet (a diet inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Greece, Southern Italy and Spain) emphasizes plant-based foods, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish. Healthy fats like olive oil are used instead of butter, and herbs are used to flavor food instead of salt.
Healthy foods like vegetables, nuts and fish were given positive scores. Meat products and excessive alcohol intake were given negative scores.
After 8.5 years, 1,550 of the patients had developed depression.
Those with higher healthy eating scores were much less likely to be depressed than those with lower healthy eating scores.
However, eating extremely healthily was not linked to any added benefit over eating a moderately healthy diet.
"Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression," Dr. Sanchez-Villegas said.
The study was published Sept. 16 in the journal BMC Medicine.
The Spanish Government, the Navarro Regional Government and the University of Navarra funded this research. The study authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.