Many of us have heard the phrase: “You are what you eat.” Maybe you eat a healthy meal in which you feel quite energetic. Or perhaps, you indulge in a hefty burger which leaves you feeling heavy and lethargic. In various ways, food is central to our physical health. It can affect our weight, as well as play a role in our body’s metabolic pathways through nutrient consumption. Individuals not cautious of their diets can be at risk for developing diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. Not only do the foods we eat influence our physical health, but it also can impact our mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, certain diets have been found to reduce the risk of depression. One diet in particular known as Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) has been found to be the most impactful.
The DASH diet can be explained as an eating plan that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in foods with high sugar and saturated fats. It was created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in hopes of decreasing hypertension (NNLBI). Several studies were done to assess the effects of the diet. A DASH Trial was done on 459 adults with and without confirmed high blood pressure. When compared to other diets such as a typical American diet that is rich in unsaturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods, it was found that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure and LDL Cholesterol. Furthermore, physicians researched whether changing a diet that would result in lower hypertension and cholesterol could affect mental health.
In a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting, it was shown that people who consume vegetables, fruit and whole grains tended to have lower rates of depression over a period. This study further confirmed that individuals who adhered more to a DASH diet had a fewer chance to develop depression.
During the study conducted by Dr. Cherian, 964 participants were evaluated over 6.5 years. They were observed for various symptoms of depression. Simultaneously, their diets were examined. It was found that people who followed the DASH diet were 11% less likely to develop depression than those who did not. Although the DASH diet can not certainly reduce the risk of depression, a correlation is shown between the diet and symptoms (PR, 2018).
Dr. Laurel Cherian, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago stated, “Depression is more frequent in people with memory problems and vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, making a lifestyle change such as changing your diet is often preferred over taking medications, so we wanted to see if diet could be an effective way to reduce the risk of depression” (PR, 2018). Cherian further explains that the same mechanisms of the DASH diet that promote cardiovascular health may also promote good mental health (Roan, 2018).
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH Eating Plan. Retrieved by https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan#DASHTrial
PR, N. (2018, February 25). Diet Shown to Reduce Stroke Risk May Also Reduce Risk of Depression. PR Newswire US.
Roan, Shari (2018). DASH Diet Linked to a Lower Risk of Depression in Older Adults. Retrieved by https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/dash-diet-linked-lower-risk-depression-older-adults/