Mediterranean Diet Can Reduce Anxiety And Stress

A Mediterranean diet can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Nuts, legumes and limiting consumption of sugar sweetened beverages were found to be important factors in reducing the severity of stress and anxiety.

“Our research team has been interested in the Mediterranean Diet for a while – we have looked at the health effects of it across the lifespan and also in different health conditions,” Dr Evangeline Mantzioris, co-author of the study and a leading dietician and researcher at the University of South Australia, told Theravive.

“We found that among 294 older Australians (aged 60+) who are living in the community, those that more closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had reduced levels and severity of anxiety and stress. This occurred regardless of their age, gender, sleep, and BMI. Research into healthy dietary patterns is showing us that diet can play a role in improving mental health. This study adds to the evidence base that the Mediterranean Diet can also provide benefits.”

The Mediterranean diet is well established as being beneficial for overall health.

It is consistently ranked as the best diet based on factors including healthfulness of the diet, how well it works and how easy it is to follow.

A Mediterranean diet is based around the traditional diets of the 16 countries that border the Mediterranean sea. There is no single universal Mediterranean diet, but those that follow such an eating plan typically include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and beans.

Olive oil is often used as a source of healthy fats, whilst eggs, fish, poultry and dairy products are included in small amounts. Red meat is less common in a Mediterranean diet.

Processed foods are limited and plant based foods that are minimally processed are the focus. Wine can be included in small amounts, and rather than candy for desserts, fruit is often eaten.

Added sugar, refined carbohydrates, sugary beverages, sodium and fatty foods are all limited.

The researchers from the University of South Australia enlisted 294 Australians aged 60 and older to assess the impact of the Mediterranean diet on their mental health.

They found that regardless of age, gender, sleep or BMI, the diet reduced both anxiety and stress in the participants.  

Mantzioris says this could be for a variety of reasons.

“It could be the antioxidants reducing oxidative stress, it could be the higher level of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats which have anti-inflammatory properties, or the higher level of fibre and presence of probiotics which leads to improvements in the microbiome. It could also be the absence of saturated fats and simple sugars, which can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress,” she told Theravive.

The most recent data from the Gallup poll shows that 49% of Americans report that they experience stress frequently. That is an increase of 16 points in the past 20 years and the highest reported amount of stressed people since the Gallup poll began.

Women report greater stress than men, with 53% reporting frequent stress compared with 45% of men.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Just over 19% of adults and 7% of children experience anxiety every year.

Mantzioris says a modifiable factor like diet could have a significant impact on both mental health and quality of life.

“Changing your diet is a relatively easy lifestyle change that people can make, which will also provide other health benefits such as a lower risk of heart disease and better blood glucose regulation. Compared to medications there is also no side effects,” she told Theravive.

“Making small changes to your diet in line with the Mediterranean diet can provide you with benefits – try having more fruit and vegetables, decrease your intake of processed and ultra-processed foods. Include more nuts, legumes and beans in your diet as well. Extra virgin olive oil is also a key component of the diet, so including that in food preparation is also important.” 

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