Mediterranean diet can ease symptoms of stress and anxiety, study finds


You’ve probably heard about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet on your health - it’s already recommended to reduce the risks of bowel cancer, heart disease and dementia.

But new research reveals more about the diet’s benefits for your mental wellness. A study from the University of South Australia shows it can reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Conducted in partnership with the University of the Sunshine Coast, researchers assessed the impact of a Mediterranean diet on mental health among 294 older Australians (aged 60+) finding that it reduced the severity of anxiety and stress, independent of age, gender, sleep and BMI.

Additionally, they identified that specific elements of the diet – fruit, nuts, legumes and a low consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks (less than 250mL per day) – reduced the severity of anxiety and stress.

Mediterranean diet includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and seeds, nuts, legumes and olive oil. Fish and seafood should be incorporated at least twice a week, while dairy and lean proteins can be eaten daily in smaller portions. The diet encourages infrequent consumption of red meats and processed foods.

Leading dietitian and UniSA researcher Dr Evangeline Mantzioris says the diet offers a simple way to improve health and wellbeing.

“It’s a big tick for the Mediterranean diet – through a relatively easy lifestyle change, people can markedly improve their stress and anxiety levels – who wouldn’t want to give it a go,” she says.

Globally, anxiety is the most common mental health disorder affecting more than 301 million people. In Australia, one in four people will experience anxiety during their lifetime.

Lifestyle behaviours such as diet are increasingly being explored as ways to reduce the risk of developing mental health issues.

“Globally, we’re facing an unprecedented ageing population, yet despite this longevity, many people continue to struggle with their health and wellbeing,” Dr Mantzioris says.

“Lifestyle behaviours, including diet quality, are gaining more attention as modifiable risk factors for poor mental health, with the Mediterranean diet endorsed for reducing chronic disease risk and supporting healthy ageing.

“In this study we showed that when older people adhered to a Mediterranean diet, their symptoms of stress and anxiety declined – and that this occurred regardless of their age, gender, BMI or how much sleep and exercise they were getting.”

READ MORE: How to fight inflammation with a Mediterranean diet – plus 20 foods for gut health


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