Winter Blues? Feed Your Brain with the Mediterranean Diet

Eat your greens and be happy

We know the Mediterranean Diet is good for your heart, but a recent study has found that it is also good for your mood. In a Spanish study conducted at the University of Navarra, researchers found that the more closely people followed a true Med diet, the lower their risk of depression.

“We are speaking of a relative reduction in risk of 42 percent to 51 percent,” said study co-author Dr. Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez, chair of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra. “This is a strong association.”

Foods most strongly associated with the lowest rates of depression were fruits, vegetables, and olive oil. The researchers attribute this to a few known factors. One is that the diet is good for the endothelium, which lines all your blood vessels. The endothelium helps make BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) which is crucial for the growth and function of all your nerve cells, especially the brain. Not enough BDNF is thought to cause depression. Of course, keeping your circulatory system healthy is good for all of you, brain included.

Olive oil is a star in the anti-depressant food category. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with happiness, and all antidepressant medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Good old olive oil was doing this all along, helping to bind the happiness molecule to its receptors and increasing its availability.

The other thing that researchers point to is Omega 3’s, the fats that Med eaters get from fish. It is very important that vegetarians get their Omega 3’s, from either grass-fed dairy and eggs, or walnuts, lots of dark leafy greens, and flax oil. There are vegan Omega 3 supplements available now that are made from algae, so vegans can make sure to get enough.

The Spanish researchers followed more than 10,000 healthy adults who filled out questionnaires between 1999 and 2005. All were free of depression when the trial started. Their adherence to the Mediterranean diet was measured by looking at nine components, such as low intake of meat, moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products, and high intake of fruits, nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish.

Basic Greens in Olive Oil and Garlic

This isn’t so much a recipe as a walk thru. you should just get it down and keep making it. Make it your own, adding whatever suits you, say a few olives, sun-dried tomatoes. or some of those EFA rich walnuts. It’s all good!

A big bunch of kale, chard or beet greens

a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil

a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced, not crushed

a pinch or two of red pepper flakes

kosher salt

1. Put on a big pot of water to boil for the greens. Wash the greens, then strip the leaves off the stems. Thinly slice the stems and put in one pile. Coarsely chop the greens and put in another. Drop the stems in the boiling water for a minute, then add the leaves and stir. Cook just a minute or so to soften. Drain and squeeze the whole mess out.

2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil briefly, and add the garlic and pepper flakes. When it starts to sizzle, don’t let it brown at all. Add the greens and stems and toss to coat with oil. Turn and toss until well coated and heated through. Salt to taste. Eat lots.

2 Responses
  • Jan 2, 2010

    This has to be the best way to start the new year. I sometimes skip the blanching and just throw the stems in the pan for a little bit, then the greens and a bit of water to finish steaming them. I’m training my family to love these on a regular basis. Thanks!

    Sally Pasley Vargas Jan 2, 2010
    Reply
    • Jan 2, 2010

      I agree- all the rich food is over, we can nourish ourselves with dark greens!

      robin Jan 2, 2010

Leave a Reply