UK researchers have discovered a well-rounded, healthy diet may protect against depression in middle-aged people.

Scientists compared the incidence of depression among individuals consuming a diet consisting of a high proportion of fruits, vegetables and fish to that of individuals whose diet contained a high proportion of high-fat dairy food, processed meat, fried food, refined grains and sugar-laden desserts.

The study, performed by researchers in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London (UCL), UK and the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), University of Montpellier, France, is published in the November issue of the The British Journal of Psychiatry.

As background information, the authors explained that much research on diet and depression tends to focus on individual nutrients so they thought they would look at links between overall dietary patterns and depression.

For the study they looked at data covering 3,486 participants of average age 57 years (nearly three-quarters were men) who were part of the Whitehall II study.

The data allowed the researchers to identify two dietary patterns: a whole food diet and a processed food diet.

They discovered a whole food diet was consistent with a 26 per cent lower risk for depression while a high processed diet was associated with a 58 percent chance of depression — five years later.

The researchers concluded that: “In middle-aged participants, a processed food dietary pattern is a risk factor for CES-D depression 5 years later, whereas a whole food pattern is protective.”

Although the study is based on correlations, rather than a definitive examination of cause and effect, the Chief Executive of the UK-based Mental Health Foundation, Dr. Andrew McCulloch comments:

“This study adds to an existing body of solid research that shows the strong links between what we eat and our mental health. Major studies like this are crucial because they hold the key to a better understanding of mental illness.”

Source: The British Journal of Psychiatry