How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet to Help Manage Bipolar Depression

salm
Credit to flickr.com user Annette Young. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

As several studies have pointed out, eating a healthy diet is crucial for managing bipolar disorder. I recently linked to a study demonstrating that a Mediterranean diet helped alleviate the symptoms of depression. New research shows that following such a diet can even help prevent depression in the first place. If you eat these prescribed foods, then you may be able to alleviate or prevent bipolar depression as well.

In addition, following this diet may lower “bad”  cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help reduce the incidence of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and some cancers–including breast cancer, when supplemented with mixed nuts. So why not give the diet a try?

But what is a Mediterranean diet? It emphasizes:

  • Eating fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts, and whole grains as primary food sources
  • Replacing butter with healthier fats such as olive oil
  • Avoiding salt, and using herbs and spices instead
  • Only eating red meat a few times per month, and eating fish and poultry twice a week instead
  • Drinking moderate amounts of red wine (optional)

To follow the diet more fully, aim for seven to ten servings of fruits and veggies per day. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta, and rice. Keep cashews, walnuts, and almonds around for snacking, but don’t eat too many, as they’re high in calories. Don’t eat butter; try olive oil and canola oil as a substitute. Eat healthy fats in general. Nosh on water-packed tuna, trout, or salmon once or twice a week, but avoid fried fish.

Don’t eat red meat unless it’s lean; avoid sausage and bacon. Choose low-fat cheese, fat-free yogurt, and skim milk. Avoid sugar. If you drink alcohol, have a glass of wine at dinner, but purple grape juice can be an alternative. For a sample meal plan that breaks down consumption by calories, click here.

There are a couple of downsides to the Mediterranean diet, however. One is the high cost. A personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar, posted a detailed breakdown of the costs of switching from butter to olive oil, and red meat to salmon, as well as other foods. According to the breakdown, salmon is almost twice as expensive as ground beef, so if you have a large family, then you might want to change over to ground turkey instead.

The other downside of the diet is its complexity. Not only is overhauling your regular eating patterns hard, balancing your intake of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates over several different meals is difficult. I know that when I’m depressed, I choose to make one of these twenty-two easy, delicious meals, most of which are carb-heavy. Those are great, but if you’re trying to follow the Mediterranean diet, then that link is not for you.

But don’t let the cost or complexity of the Mediterranean diet throw you. In-season produce, the backbone of the diet, is generally cheaper than meat, be it red or fish or poultry. And switching from butter to olive oil is easy. You don’t have to follow a diet to a T to get some of the benefits.

By following this diet, you may be better able to manage bipolar depression, which can take all the help you can get. The bottom line is, just do what you can. Eat more fruit. Swap ground beef for ground turkey. If eating more vegetables or switching some unhealthy fats for healthier ones is all you can do, that’s still great. You’ve got this.

Show me some love!