What Is the DASH Diet, & Can It Really Reduce Risk of Depression?

Feb 27, 2018 at 11:40 a.m. ET
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We know that a healthy diet is good for your body, but what about your mind? New research out of Rush University found that eating a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit and whole grains may result in a reduced risk of depression.

Specifically, the study focused on the dietary approaches to stop hypertension diet, which recommends eating fruits and vegetables alongside fat-free or low-fat dairy products and limiting foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar. Researchers found that participants who adhered to the DASH diet were 11 percent less likely to develop depression than those who did not. Along the same lines, participants who followed a traditionally Western diet — higher in saturated fats and sugar — were more likely to develop depression.

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"Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke," Dr. Laurel Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush's department of neurological sciences, said in a statement. "There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression."

Cherian did note, however, that the research doesn't prove the DASH diet is entirely responsible for a reduced risk of depression; for now, it only shows an association. However, she said more research is needed on this topic.

"Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy," Cherian said.

What does the DASH diet involve?

Despite the fact that it sounds like a food plan developed by the Kardashian family, it's anything but a fad diet. In fact, it's endorsed by a number of high-profile health organizations, including the National Institutes of Health. In reality, it's more of an eating plan than a strict diet and offers a lot of flexibility and no special food requirements. (Read: No one will be making you eat nine bowls of cabbage soup over the course of a week.) Instead, it focuses on meeting daily and weekly nutritional goals. The goal of the DASH diet is to lower high blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, promoting better heart health.

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According to the NIH, the DASH diet should be based on consuming 2,000 calories each day and involves:

  • Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
  • Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils, such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oils
  • Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
  • Choosing foods that are low in saturated and trans fats; rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein; and lower in sodium

To make it even easier, the Mayo Clinic has put together some sample menus adhering to the DASH diet to give you some meal-prep ideas.

So even if there's not a direct relationship between the DASH diet and reducing the risk of depression, it presents some pretty solid food rules to follow, so you might as well give it a try.

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