The Mediterranean diet is centered on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, seeds, and nuts while limiting red meat, added sugars, and processed foods in your diet. It is considered one of the most healthy dietary models worldwide.
This healthy diet offers many health benefits, such as preventing heart diseases, supporting healthy blood sugar levels, promoting an ideal weight, and improving mental well-being.
Mediterranean Diet And Mental Health
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not limited to physiological benefits. It also has a positive effect on your psychological and mental health. The diet is rich in fiber, healthy fats (such as omega 3 fatty acids), magnesium, and vitamins B, including vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and folate. For example, Vitamin B6 plays an important role in regulating your mood, and having a B6 deficiency can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Vitamin B1 promotes positive mood changes and improves symptoms of depression, and a lack of vitamin B1 can lead to difficulty concentrating mental fatigue, and even depression.
The high amounts of nutritious foods in the Mediterranean diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, offer powerful antioxidant and anti-inﬂammatory properties that support your brain health and help regulate your emotions through hormones, including feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. These ‘happy hormones’ are essential in uplifting your mood and emotions, such as pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Dysfunction of these hormones is associated with having a low mood.
The Mediterranean diet can also provide protection against depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Studies show that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of depression and anxiety than people who don’t adhere to a Mediterranean diet. Following a Mediterranean diet can also improve symptoms of people with depression and help them overcome depression.
One of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet has a positive influence on mental health is that the diet encourages eating a high amount of plant-based foods, including beans and legumes. These foods can boost your natural serotonin levels, a feel-good hormone that improves your mood. They can also help you regulate your sleep-wake cycles and reduce the risk of mood disturbances, such as anger, depression, and anxiety caused by sleep deprivation.
Healthy Gut, Healthy Mood
The Mediterranean diet is high in fiber-rich, gut-friendly foods that feed beneficial bacteria in the gut and improve your mood. You might wonder how gut bacteria can affect your mood and mental health. Well, the answer is simple. There is a two-way communication channel between the gut and the brain that carries messages back and forth that significantly impact mood and cognition. In summary, supporting your gut health with a Mediterranean diet also supports your mental health.
How To Start A Mediterranean Diet In 6 Steps
The Mediterranean diet doesn’t mean having a strict dietary plan. Rather than dictating what not to eat, the Mediterranean diet focuses on what to eat more of. The answer to this is to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils. The next important thing is to eat foods like dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry in low to moderate amounts. Lastly, the Mediterranean diet means eating red meat and sweets less often and only on special occasions.
It is easy to adopt a Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle. Here are some tips to make your meals adhere to the Mediterranean style.
1- Eat plenty of colorful vegetables in every meal, including breakfast. For example, have bell peppers, onion, and spinach with your scrambled eggs in the morning. Try a kale and butternut squash salad for lunch. As for dinner, why not try zucchini noodles with tomato and olive oil?
2- Increase your fruit intake. The best way to increase your daily fruit intake is to have fruits as a snack or dessert. After all, fruit is nature’s candy! Try baking apple slices with cinnamon for a sweet Mediterranean snack.
3- Choose whole grains over refined bread, buns, bagels, pasta, and other grains. And don’t be afraid to try different whole grains such as buckwheat, bulgur, millet, sorghum, and barley. For example, add chopped dried apricots, shelled pistachios, lemon juice, a little olive oil, and some fresh chopped parsley to your millet pilaf.
4- Try to eat seafood twice a week while reducing your intake of red meat. Simple swaps are a great way to achieve it. For example, swap a beef burger with a grilled salmon burger to turn your meal into a hearty Mediterranean meal.
5- Use extra virgin olive oil in your meals. Adding olive oil to your diet is one of the best steps you can take for adopting a Mediterranean diet, as extra virgin olive oil is the primary source of fats for this diet. Replace your butter stick with olive oil when preparing your meals in a Mediterranean style. For example, if a recipe requires one stick of butter (8 tablespoons), use 6 tablespoons of olive oil instead.
6- Don’t forget to include nuts and seeds in your meals. They are another healthy fat and protein source in the Mediterranean diet. Sprinkle some into your salads, smoothies, oatmeal, or whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa. For example, add one tablespoon of flax seeds to your berry smoothie.