Recent research has shown a relationship between depression and diet. People who follow more of a Mediterranean diet were noted to have less depression and more positive mental health. While all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not known, it is thought that folate and omega-3 essential fatty acids are of the utmost importance.
Folate, a water -soluble B vitamin, is found in beans, green vegetables and whole grains. These are the foods that you want to eat more of in order to receive the physical and mental health benefits of folate. Very good sources of folate, in order of strength, include soy beans, chick peas, pinto beans, spinach, lima beans, papaya, wheat germ, and asparagus.
There are two main types of Omega 3 essential fatty acids – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both are important for heart and brain health and are found in deep ocean fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Taking Omega 3 supplements is also an option along with eating nuts and Omega 3 enriched eggs. A third type of Omega 3 is called Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which can be found in flax seed and some green vegetables. ALA is converted to DHA and EPA by the body. The human body does not manufacture omega-3 essential fatty acids and we must get them from our diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids are another essential fatty acid that must be properly balanced with Omega-3s in order for us to achieve optimal health. The American diet is extremely out of balance. The ideal balance is 2:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3. However, because of the overuse of refined vegetable oils found in processed foods, we are getting far too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.
Beef is another source of excess Omega 6. Cows are feed corn and other grains which raise the Omega 6 content greatly. Cows that are fed grass, the food source intended for cows, have the correct Omega balance. In the typical American diet replete with processed and fast foods and grain feed beef, the average ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is 15:1. This imbalance in our dietary Omega 3s and 6s is thought to contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.
You can make the necessary dietary changes to reduce the Omega 6 fatty acids and increase Omega 3 fatty acids by making some simple, progressive changes in your diet. Reducing the intake of processed foods (most foods that come in a package and/or have been changed from their original, natural, whole form) and reducing the intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and cottonseed oil).
In summary, to balance Omega 3s and 6s, eat more deep ocean fatty fish, beans, nuts, green vegetables, whole foods, whole grains, fruits, grass fed beef and reduce processed and fast foods, including junk foods. For those who wish to make more substantial changes to their diet for greater mental and physical health, consider adopting the Mediterranean diet or the similar anti-inflammatory diet for optimal health. Links for more information about these diets are provided below.
Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist