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There’s quite a comprehensive article in the British newspaper, the independent, looking at a number of factors that make up a good diet. The article is quite comprehensive, so I’m not going to summarize it all, though to give you a taste of what it’s about, the subsections are as follows:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet
  • Eat selenium
  • Watch your blood sugar
  • Boost your serotonin
  • Get plenty of fish
  • Eat up your greens
  • Drink lots of water
  • What to avoid: False pick-me-ups

If you’re interested in what effects your diet can have on your health, take a look at the article.

There’s a recent article on the bbc website on the ‘Mediterranean diet’, and depression. A recent study found evidence that those who are on a Mediterranean diet are 30% less likely to experience depression than those not on such a diet. The authors of the study state that more research is needed to confirm the results, but in the meantime this result reminds the importance of eating well. If you don’t eat well, your body isn’t going to be as healthy, and if your body isn’t healthy, it’s difficult to be mentally healthy. So with new years is looming, maybe it’s a good time to consider making a resolution to have a healthier diet?

If you’re looking at changing your diet, there are a number of approaches. The general rules are usually pretty well known; It’s important to get your fruit and vegetables (five plus a day!), and it’s usually a good idea to make sure we’re not eating too many calories, especially from animal fats (like KFC) or high glycemic index carbs (like white bread) – unless you’re an athlete, in which case you can eat a little more. It’s also nice to get some fish in your diet, as fish are a good source of omega-3s, and a good source of protein (especially for people who are uncomfortable eating other meats).

Now, looking the Mediterranean diet in particular, it emphasizes a couple of things:

  • High consumption of lots unsaturated fats (generally but not always plant fats), especially olive oil. This is in contrast to saturated (generally animal) fats.
  • High consumption of fruits and nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish
  • Medium consumption of alcohol (e.g. red wine) and dairy products. Personally, I’d exercise some caution with the alcohol, as a high consumption of alcohol is not a good thing for you physically or mentally  – Additionally, alcohol and anti-depressants are a bad combination, so if you’re on antidepressants, I’d be very cautious consuming any alcohol.
  • Low consumption of meat
So there you have it. The Mediterranean diet. If you’re looking to try something new, maybe try and put a bit of Mediterranean into your diet? Get a Mediterranean cookbook (or do a quick google search), and try out a few recipes. If you like a recipe / food that’s healthy, keep it, if you don’t like a recipe / food, look for another one. Make a few changes at a time and build yourself a healthier diet. It’s not going to solve all your problems, but it’s one step towards being healthier.

One of the more startling findings is that the rate of depression in the western world has been on the increase over the past century. One study (summary here) found the rate of major depression in U.S. adults increased from 3.33% to 7.06% over a ten year period. The study interviewed a large sample, and used their own questions, rather than relying on the numbers diagnosed by doctors, so an increase in the rates of diagnosis wouldn’t explain the result. The study found increasing substance abuse could account for some, but not all of the change.

One researcher has explained the increase in depression in cultural terms. Stephen Ilardi, from the University of Kansas, argues that depression arises because people are more adapted to primitive times:

“As a species, humans were never designed for the pace of modern life, we’re designed for a different time — a time when people were physically active, when they were outside in the sun for most of the day, when they had extensive social connections and enjoyed continual face time with their friends and loved ones, when they experienced very little social isolation, when they had a much different diet, when they got considerably more sleep and when they had much less in the way of a relentless, demanding, stress-filled existence.” (Source: Kansas University News)

His six recommendations for depression are to get more physical activity, spend more time in the sun, keep up social connections, improve our diet (by eating more food with omega-3s, and less fast foods), getting more sleep, and engaging ourselves in tasks to avoid rumination. I’ve come across similar recommendations before, and they are good self-care behaviours.

The thing about culture is that we can often be sucked into thinking that the way we do things is the way things are meant to be done. So we should look at whether we’re buying into the modern high-stress culture, and consider whether we should make some changes to our lives. Maybe it’s time to go ‘primitive’, and live healthier lives?

May 2020