Diet and Depression: Connections between what we eat and how we feel. More support for the Mediterranean diet.


It’s certainly not new news that what we eat affects our mental state. Many articles and research papers have looked at this connection. A recent study looking at teens, a population in this country that is growing in mood disorders, found that improving diet quality over a 3 week period reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.1

The researchers concluded that “Modifying diet to reduce processed food intake and increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish and olive oil improved depression symptoms in young adults. These findings add to a growing literature showing a modest change to diet is a useful adjunct therapy to reduce symptoms of depression.”

This shouldn’t be too surprising given what many teens are eating these days.

Fast food. Energy drinks. Chips and cookies. Candy. Soda.

Not saying this is every teen, but in my experience, from the ones that sit across from me in my office, this is not abnormal. Parents often lack the knowledge to appropriately guide their child or have lost the ability to control their kids’ food choices. The result is an adolescent that gives in to their diet desires, not knowing or in many cases not caring about the long term ramifications.

Depression or not, we should be caring about what our kids eat. Behavior problems, mood disorders, energy issues, general appearance (acne, etc) and self esteem are all affected by diet.

If this is happening in your family, or you are trapped in this unhealthy diet cycle, what should you do?

Get educated. Time and time again the Mediterranean diet gets accolades for its ability to improve blood sugar control, reduce blood pressure, support weight loss, and relieve inflammation. I always point people there first. Check out these links for some basics:

Mayo Clinic

Mediterranean Diet

What do we see in these lists?

Nuts and seeds. Fruits and vegetables. Fish/seafood. Some lean protein. Whole grains. Low-sugar dairy.

You can probably see that the reason this diet works so well is that it is full of nutrient-dense foods. Everything here is packed with vitamins and minerals that feed our cells, increase our energy, and balance our mind.

Those processed foods mentioned above, commonly consumed not only by teens but by many adults as well, are full of, well, NOTHING. Sure, there’s calories, but literally nothing our cells can use for repair, to fight inflammation, or balance neurotransmitters in our brain.

Therein lies the problem with these caloric but nutritionally dead foods.

I realize changing to a more nutrient-dense diet is not easy. If you have a teen you are trying to change, all I can say is first start with yourself. Nine times out of ten when I have a teen sitting in front of me with poor diet, the parents do as well. Model good behavior first.

Apart from that, have honest discussions with your teen about diet and what it does for us.

Enlist the help of a registered dietitian to facilitate that discussion, if needed.

Be up front with your own diet challenges and explain the changes that need to happen in the household.

Above all, just take things one at a time. Try a few new foods on these lists. Change up a few dinners. Clean up the snack choices. Stop buying certain grocery items.

Change takes time, but things will never change if you don’t start somewhere!

Do it for your kids, but also do it for yourself.



Danielle VenHuizen, MS RDN