An eating pattern known as the Dutch Healthy Diet was found to have substantial benefits in reducing symptoms of depression, especially in people with type 2 diabetes, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
For many years, the Mediterranean diet — a loose collection of eating guidelines that emphasize ingredients such as olive oil, fruits and vegetables, beans and other legumes, whole grains, and fish and other lean sources of protein — has gotten a lot of media coverage as a healthy way of eating, earning accolades such as “best diet of 2021.” But other regional healthy eating patterns have gained greater recognition in recent years, as well, including the Nordic diet — showing that there’s more than one way to reach the goal of a satisfying diet that incorporates a wide variety of ingredients and has demonstrated health benefits. But the Dutch Healthy Diet is unlikely to be familiar to most people outside the Netherlands.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
In the latest study, researchers in the Netherlands looked at the relationship between following the 2015 Dutch dietary guidelines — as well as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is targeted toward stopping hypertension (high blood pressure) — and symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults with diabetes. The participants were 3,174 adults with either type 1 (1,369 people) or type 2 (1,805 people) diabetes, with an average age of 55. Based on a detailed food frequency questionnaire, each person’s diet was scored based on how closely it fit each of the three included dietary patterns in the study. Symptoms of depression and anxiety were also measured using standardized questionnaires.
Dutch Healthy Diet linked to lower depression rates
Overall, elevated depression symptoms were seen in 12% of participants with type 1 and 12% of those with type 2 diabetes, while elevated anxiety symptoms were seen in 7% of those with type 1 and 5% of those with type 2. Compared with the quarter of participants whose food intake least closely fit the Dutch Healthy Diet, the quarter of participants whose food intake most closely fit this diet were 27% less likely to have symptoms of depression, with a more pronounced effect in people with type 2 diabetes. There was no connection between following this dietary pattern and symptoms of anxiety.
As noted in an article on the study at NutraIngredients, while all three diets in the study were initially found to be linked to a lower risk of symptoms of depression, after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors, this link remained only for the Dutch Healthy Diet and the DASH diet. And after further adjustment for lifestyle factors like smoking status, exercise and calorie intake, only the link to the Dutch Healthy Diet remained.
The reasons for these differences between diets, the researchers point out, may have a lot to do with how they’re assessed rather than any one of them being inherently superior when it comes to reducing the risk of depression. While the Dutch Healthy Diet is scored based on 14 different food groups, the Mediterranean diet score used in the study includes only nine food groups, while the DASH diet is based on eight food groups. Fruit and nuts are combined as a single food group for the Mediterranean diet score, while the Dutch Healthy Diet and DASH diet look at fruit consumption separately. And while nuts are their own food group in the Dutch Healthy Diet, they’re combined with legumes for the DASH diet.
The researchers concluded that rather than showing the Mediterranean diet to be ineffective at reducing symptoms of depression, the study’s results reflect the fact that the Dutch Healthy Diet was the dietary pattern that looked at food intake in the greatest detail, as well as the fact that most people in the Netherlands don’t follow a Mediterranean style of eating. And the common elements of each of the three diets included in the study — consuming less processed, high-fat, and high-sugar foods, and consuming more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains — are likely to be beneficial no matter what specific diet you choose to follow.
Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!