Medical News Today: What is the best diet for mental health?

There is no specific diet that is best for mental health, but some eating patterns appear to be better than others.

Mediterranean diet

Among common diet plans, the Mediterranean diet has the strongest evidence supporting its ability to reduce the symptoms of depression. It is also a diet that experts routinely recommend for overall health and well-being.

Compounds in the Mediterranean diet that have links to lower depression rates include:

The Mediterranean diet consists of:

  • plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • potatoes
  • cereals
  • beans and pulses
  • nuts and seeds
  • olive oil
  • low-to-moderate amounts of dairy products, fish, and poultry
  • very little red meat
  • eggs up to four times a week
  • low-to-moderate amounts of wine

Learn more about how to eat a Mediterranean diet in this article.

Low calorie diet

Short-term calorie restriction has shown some promise for treating the symptoms of depression.

Experts have defined calorie restriction as “a reduction in energy intake well below the amount of calories that would be consumed ad libitum.” The extent of the restriction will vary depending on the individual’s needs.

One study that looked at the relationship between food intake and depression defined calorie restriction as a 30–40% decrease in calorie intake while retaining protein, vitamin, mineral, and water intake to maintain proper nutrition. According to this definition, a person who usually eats 2,000 calories per day would eat between 1,200 and 1,400 calories instead.

A person may not need to reduce their calorie intake by this much, however. Researchers also noted that in an earlier study, otherwise healthy people who reduced their calorie intake by 25% for 6 months also had reduced depressive symptoms.

It is vital to note that calorie restriction can sometimes lead to the development of an eating disorder. It is also not safe for people who have an existing eating disorder or behaviors relating to disordered eating.

Anyone who wishes to try calorie restriction should also speak to a doctor or a registered dietitian about how to ensure that they are getting enough nutrients.

It is also important not to restrict calories or follow a low calorie diet in the long term, as this can damage neurons and make depressive symptoms worse.

Intermittent fasting

There is some evidence that intermittent fasting can help improve mood and mental well-being.

Clinicians have noted that fasting could contribute to improvements in mood, as well as people’s subjective sense of well-being, alertness, tranquility, and, in some cases, euphoria.

A small 2013 study involving men over the age of 50 years found that in comparison with a control group, those who participated in intermittent fasting had significant decreases in:

  • anger
  • tension
  • confusion
  • mood disturbances

However, other research has produced contradictory results. A study in amateur weightlifters found that 48 hours of fasting caused negative mood changes, including significantly increased anger and slightly raised confusion and fatigue.

As with calorie restriction, intermittent fasting is not safe for everyone. People with a history of eating disorders or blood sugar issues, such as hypoglycemia, should not attempt intermittent fasting without a doctor’s guidance.

Learn more about the potential benefits of intermittent fasting in this article.


Another study showed an association between polyphenols and both the prevention of depression and the improvement of depressive symptoms. The polyphenols that the researchers studied came from:

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