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How the Mediterranean Diet Can Help a Teen with Depression

If you have been diagnosed with depression, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that can help your treatment progress.

One is diet.

Specifically, the Mediterranean diet.

A Spanish study analyzed the effects of the Mediterranean diet on almost 10,000 participants. Results found a correlation of the diet to a reduced risk of depression. This diet, inspired by the culinary fares of Italy, Greece, and Spain, emphasizes fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, nuts and beans, olive oil, and fish. It recommends dairy in moderation and meat on occasion.

Why these foods in particular, you ask? Let’s go over the main elements of the diet.

Elements of the Mediterranean Diet

  1. Fish (salmon, especially) is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reportedly improve one’s general mental health. One Harvard study is currently underway to determine how exactly omega-3s help with depression. But for now, the official stance of Harvard Health is that children and adolescents with depression may benefit from omega-3 supplements.
  2. Dark green leafy vegetables, like romaine lettuce and spinach, contain folate intake and B12 vitamins—both of which are inversely associated with depression. Beans and nuts, prominent in the Mediterranean diet, contain folate too.
  3. Fruit and veggies: In this study of adolescent girls, eating one to three servings a day of fruit and green vegetables was inversely associated with depression.
  4. Extra-virgin olive oil has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Regularly ingesting olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants, produces mood-elevating properties. So bye, canola; hello, EVOO!

Bid Adieu to Junk Food, Too

In addition to incorporating these elements into your daily meals, avoiding sugar also seems to help. Several years ago, a study found that consuming large amounts of sugary foods and drinks led to a higher likelihood of developing anxiety or depression. On the other hand, those who refrained from sugar were less likely to develop mental health issues long-term. The aforementioned study on adolescent girls found that processed foods—like pizza, hamburgers, and ramen noodles—were associated with depression.

Of course, simply changing your diet alone is not a substitute for proper mental health treatment. If you have depression, you may need therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy) and possibly medication. But if your depression and anxiety have become all-consuming, even 1:1 therapy may not be enough. In those cases, you might require a more immersive residential treatment center (RTC), partial hospitalization program (PHP), or intensive outpatient program (IOP) that specializes in treating adolescent depression.

But until then, you can make healthier choices. You can reach for those fruits in the supermarket, choose a salad when you go out to eat, and snack on nuts instead of chips. And if you’re pan-frying anything, you’ll find that olive oil is a great option.

As the research shows, you’ll only benefit.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

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