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Research finds Mediterranean diet can reduce stress, anxiety in people over 60

Eating more fruit, nuts and legumes and reducing sugary drinks may help to ease stress and anxiety in people aged over 60, new Australian research has found.

The research examined about 300 Australians aged 60 and over and found a lower intensity of anxiety symptoms in people who followed a Mediterranean style diet, which is a diet high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and olive oil, Dr Anthony Villani said.

“When we examined individual food groups within the diet, the strongest impacts on easing anxiety and stress were related to a high intake of legumes and nuts and a low intake of sugar-sweetened beverages – less than one can of soft drink a week,” said Dr Villani, who is an academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast and an accredited practising dietitian.

“Nuts and legumes are rich in fibre, healthy fats and antioxidants which are likely to help produce good bacteria in the gut, lower inflammation and in turn have a favourable effect on brain health.

“Higher vegetable intake was also associated with lower symptoms of depression, although we were surprised the overall findings were not stronger for alleviating depression and this warrants further study.”

Dr Villani said while there was already “good evidence” that a Mediterranean diet was associated with lower depressive symptoms in younger and middle-aged people, the researchers wanted to look into the potential mental health benefits for older people.

Because the study included controls for other factors associated with poor mental health in otherwise healthy adults, like sleep, physical activity, body fat and cognition level, Dr Villani said “regardless of your sleep, weight, exercise or brain function, a healthy diet really does matter when it comes to good mental health”.

He said the next step for researchers would be to conduct human clinical trials.

The research, which was published in the journal Nutrients, was led by the University of the Sunshine Coast honours graduate Lisa Allcock along with Dr Villani and the University of South Australia.

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