Cutting down on junk food could reduce the risk of depression, researchers have said.
People who eat a Mediterranean diet were much less likely to develop depression compared with people who regularly ate junk food, high in sugar.
The research adds further evidence to the Mediterranean diet’s benefits. Last week, this way of eating, which involves consuming plenty of fish, nuts and vegetables, was linked to reduced stroke risk in females.
This new study was conducted by researchers from the UK, Spain and Australia, who are now calling for healthcare professionals and mental health experts to talk to patients more about how poor quality food can affect our health.
The findings were based on an analysis of 41 studies involving more than 32,000 people.
Foods containing a lot of sugar and those which are heavily processed can lead to inflammation in the body, and those who followed a diet high in sugar were more likely to experience inflammation, which can lead to depression. A diet high in processed food is already commonly associated with type 2 diabetes, which can also affect mental health.
But eating a Mediterranean diet appeared to lower the chances of people developing mental health problems.
Lead author Dr Camille Lassale, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL), said: “Poor diet may increase the risk of depression as these are results from longitudinal studies which excluded people with depression at the beginning of the study. Therefore, the studies looked at how diet at baseline is related to new cases of depression.”
This can affect mental health by transporting pro-inflammatory molecules into the brain, according to Dr Lassale, which impact mood regulation.
“A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression,” she added.
The inflammation impacts the body in a similar way that smoking, pollution, obesity and not exercising can.
Dr Tasnime Akbaraly, who is also from UCL academic and co-authored the research, said: “Added to recent randomised trials showing beneficial effects of dietary improvement on depression outcomes, there are now strong arguments in favour of regarding diet as mainstream in psychiatric medicine.
“Our study findings support routine dietary counselling as part of a doctor’s office visit, especially with mental health practitioners.”
The study findings have been published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal.

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