Nutrition and Neurotransmitters: Week Three

The Mediterranean Diet

Depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, equivalent to 7 percent of all women and 4 percent of men. The World Health Organization estimates that about USD 1 trillion is lost each year because of low productivity caused by depression and anxiety disorders. However, a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry says that a diet rich in fish, nuts and vegetables could help lower a person's risk of depression.  Diet is such an important component of mental health that it has inspired an entire field of medicine called Nutritional Psychiatry

Researchers from Spain, Britain and Australia analyzed 41 studies published within the last 8 years on the links between diet and depression. They found a connection between people's diet and their chances of developing depression. People who followed a strict Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with depression compared to people who were least likely to follow these eating habits.

The research team found that people who ate foods containing a lot of fat, sugar and processed meats were more likely to suffer from depression. "A pro-inflammatory diet can induce systemic inflammation, and this can directly increase the risk for depression," she added.

Findings were based on 5 longitudinal studies of 32, 908 adults from Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. Quoted in the British newspaper 'The Guardian', Lassale 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."

The reported health effects of the Mediterranean diet have a solid biological foundation. The Mediterranean Diet is unique in that it is embedded in a social network that may contribute to increased personal well-being. Although speculative, it is reasonable to assume that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet also reflects a higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle, including eating at home, expending time cooking, sharing lunchtime with other people and going to the market to buy foods. These lifestyle factors promote a sense of community and connectedness which has been linked to longevity and improved health outcomes as well as a self-perceived improved quality of life.

What exactly is the Mediterranean Diet?

Dr. Tracey Marks and the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is not a single diet but rather an eating pattern that takes inspiration from the diet of southern European countries. There is an emphasis on plant foods, olive oil, fish, poultry, beans, and grains.  In addition, there is much focus on eating with others for connection, physical activity and movement and cooking meals with friends and family. 

Mediterranean diet

But How Can I Eat This Way on Campus?

Whether you live on-campus or off-campus in housing, incorporating healthy foods regularly can be challenging and feel overwhelming for most students.  As with all behavior changes, small steps for big change will work best.  Rather than trying to re-vamp your entire diet, taking small manageable steps towards healthier nutrition will be more sustainable.  More on how to create new habits in next week's modules!

Tips for Healthy Nutrition on Campus:

  • Get to know your options, find out which dining halls offer healthy options
  • Tune into your hunger cues.  Fitting in meals around classes can be challenging.  Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks in your backpack.
    • Nuts and seeds
    • A piece of fruit
    • Fresh vegetables such as baby carrots
    • Berries or grapes
    • Greek yogurt
    • Apple with peanut butter or almond butter
  • Step away from the television, homework and social media when you eat in order to practice mindful eating.  Pay attention to your satiety signals and stop eating when you begin to feel full.
  • Purchase healthy options to have on hand in your dorm room or house.  This will help to prevent impulsive decisions to eat highly processed or fast food.
  • Look for foods that are fresh, baked, steamed versus fried

Mediterranean Grocery List:

During college, it would be very difficult to incorporate a full Mediterranean Diet lifestyle, however, when shopping you can use the list below to pick some of the foods to begin to slowly make healthy nutrition changes that will have a positive impact on your health over time.  Remember to choose fruits and vegetables that are different colors to get a wide variety of micronutrients.  For example, rather than purchasing a bag of apples, try to purchase one red apple, an orange, and some green grapes and a couple of bananas.  Adding variety to your diet will keep your healthy lifestyle interesting while optimizing the vitamins and minerals you are getting to enhance your immune system.

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating healthfully doesn’t have to break the bank.  In fact, meal prepping at home and using the tips below may actually be less expensive than eating out frequently.  It is important to note here that According to data from the College and University food Bank Alliance (CUFA), 30 percent of college students are food insecure.  If you are in need of resources due to food insecurity please reach out to financial aid to file a hardship request and check out Replenish: the campus food resource for students experiencing food insecurity. 

Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget when you have little time:

  • Utilize canned beans as a source of protein.  Beans are quick to cook, highly nutritious and filling.  They can be turned into dips, thrown into salads or put into soups/stews.
  • Think more veggies and less meat.  Meat, poultry and seafood is expensive so incorporating meatless meals can be a wallet saver
  • Use eggs as a meal incorporating them into omelets, scrambles with feta cheese, or even placing a fried egg over roasted vegetables for an affordable source of protein and fat.
  • Take advantage of attending the farmer’s market.  You will find seasonal fruits and vegetables often at prices that are lower than the grocery store.
  • Go easy on the nuts.  Nuts are a great on the go snack and a great source of healthy fats but they are also expensive and a few (handful) per day are all you need.
  • Take advantage of sales and plan meals around items you can get cheaper that week
  • Purchase canned fish such as tuna and salmon to incorporate into salads, scrambles and sandwiches
  • Buy frozen or canned vegetables.  While not as pretty as fresh, they are nutritious and more affordable and shelf stable so there will be less potential food wasted.
  • Freeze leftovers and use them for future meals when you are busy during finals or working
  • Utilize rotisserie chicken to save time and money and prevent waste.  You can remove the chicken from the bone ahead of time and use throughout the week to add to soups, eggs, rice with vegetables or in sandwiches.
  • Avoid pre-packaged food as much as possible.  These foods tend to be highly processed with very little nutritional value and promote inflammation.

Page last modified March 11, 2024