Have you ever experienced a sugar crash? A momentary surge of energy followed by a depressive downswing. After a large bowl of steaming pasta, do you wallow in lethargy, unable to motivate? How about that balanced, long-winded energy stream flowing from a few days of plant-based, healthy fat, low sugar meals?

While food-related side-effects are incredibly prevalent their physical manifestations, the nutritional content of our dietary regimen may also affect our mood, and, even more alarming, the risk factor for developing psychological conditions. A recent SMILES study published by BMC Medicine in January of 2017, looked to uncover connection, if any, between a plant-based diet and depression.

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Depression is one of the most pervasive psychological conditions in the United States, currently ranking as the leading cause of disability in American adults between the ages of 15 and 45. Per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, major depressive disorder (MDD) — referring to long-lasting, persistent, and intense feelings of sadness — affects over 16.1 million Americans over the age of 18. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) —is a form of depression lasting two or so years — effects, on average, 3.3 million Americans over the age of 18.

Yet, the positive discoveries in the recent SMILES study provide a glimmer of hope. The stud discovered a “clear pattern that following a healthier, plant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet can help prevent depression.” In particular, this review looked at four studies with 36,556 adult participants, which focused on the connection between depression and the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is comprised of plant-based foods, as well as healthy substitutes such as olive oil lieu of butter or margarine, fresh herbs and spices in lieu of salt, fatty fish and fresh poultry every week, and limited red meat consumption. Cultural practices also play a large role in societies where the Mediterranean diet is traditional, including activities such as eating meals with family, getting ample exercise, and enjoying a glass of red wine in moderation.

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In the SMILES trial, it was found that “people with a more Mediterranean-like diet had a 33 percent lower risk of developing depression than people whose diet least resembled a Mediterranean diet.” The Mediterranean diet naturally boosts specific brain-hearty nutrition such as omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, polyphenols, and magnesium, while decreasing pro-inflammatory foods including processed products and foods high in sugar and saturated fat.

So, how does it all work? How is your mood affected by diet?

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Per the SMILES trial, there are multiple physiological ways in which mood can be altered by the food you eat. First, diet has the potential to either protect or damage your brain. This damage occurs through “oxidative stress (a harmful chemical process), insulin resistance, changes in blood flow and inflammation.” The Mediterranean diet provides ample brain protection through anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory components. Secondly, what’s on your dinner plate may also affect the “formation of brain cells” in the hippocampus, which just so happens to be the part of the brain that regulates mood. Last, but definitely not least, is the gut-brain connection. Gut microbiota, the bacteria in your gut, breaks down nutrients which “communicate with the gut and brain neurons,” which have the ability to influence behavior.

Mediterranean Recipes 

Looking to transition to a more plant-based or Mediterranean-type diet? Here are a few recipes to get you started! Courtesy of the Food Monster App!

Dill Pickle Roasted Chickpea Gyros

Dill Pickle Roasted Chickpea Gyros/One Green Planet

Gyros, a traditional Greek-style flatbread recipe, is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It also happens to be one of the best recipes for vegan beginners. Simple, diverse, and easy to transport, this Dill Pickle Roasted Chickpea Gyros recipe by Maria Koutsogiannis and a great lunch meal on the go!

Chive and Tahini Mini Twists

Chive and Tahini Mini Twists/One Green Planet

This Chive and Tahini Mini Twist recipe by Annie McGee offers up all the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in easy to make and delicious mini bites. Full of fresh herbs and a dollop of tahini — a delicious paste made from ground sesame seeds — these twists are a great snack or side to your Mediterranean meal.

Moussaka: Mediterranean Potato and Eggplant Bake

Moussaka: Mediterranean Potato and Eggplant Bake/One Green Planet

This traditional-with-a-twist Moussaka recipe by Mati Michael is great for the larger family, dinner parties, or leftovers. This recipe is full with plant-based ingredients and fresh spices and will keep you feeling full longer!

For more mental health-affirming recipes, we recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out! 

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