Mediterranean diet linked to reduced anxiety: research findings | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Mediterranean diet linked to reduced anxiety: research findings

Consuming more nuts, fruit and legumes and fewer sugary drinks may help people aged over 60 feel less anxious and stressed, according to research led by the University of the Sunshine Coast.

UniSC academic and accredited practising dietitian Dr Anthony Villani said these foods were key markers in the study of more than 300 older Australians.

“Overall, the research found a lower intensity of anxiety symptoms in people who followed a Mediterranean style diet, which is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and of course olive oil,” Dr Villani said.

“When we examined individual food groups within the diet, the strongest impacts on easing anxiety and stress were related to a high intake of legumes and nuts and a low intake of sugar-sweetened beverages – less than one can of soft drink a week.

“Nuts and legumes are rich in fibre, healthy fats and antioxidants which are likely to help produce good bacteria in the gut, lower inflammation and in turn have a favourable effect on brain health.

“Higher vegetable intake was also associated with lower symptoms of depression, although we were surprised the overall findings were not stronger for alleviating depression and this warrants further study.”

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The research, published in the journal Nutrients, was led by UniSC Honours graduate Lisa Allcock in collaboration with supervisor Dr Villani and the University of South Australia.

"This means that regardless of your sleep, weight, exercise or brain function, a healthy diet really does matter when it comes to good mental health," Dr Villani said.

Dr Villani, UniSC Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, said the sugary drinks result reflected other research that connected ultra processed foods with chronic disease.

“There is already good evidence that a Med diet is associated with lower depressive symptoms in younger and middle-aged people, but we wanted to examine the potential mental health benefits for older people,” he said.

Foods in a Mediterranean style diet - Getty Images

The study controlled other factors associated with poor mental health in otherwise healthy adults, such as sleep, physical activity, body fat and cognition level.

“This means that regardless of your sleep, weight, exercise or brain function, a healthy diet really does matter when it comes to good mental health.”

He said the next step would be to conduct human clinical trials.

Miss Alcock, who works as an accredited practising dietitian, said the Mediterranean diet pattern was exciting because it could be used as a holistic approach to support multiple health-related outcomes.

“There is now abundant evidence of the diet's positive outcomes on various chronic diseases, and it is very transferable to practice,” she said.

“For example, I can recommend a Med diet to support a person's diabetes management, knowing that it may have desirable outcomes on their mental health too.”

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