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Food for thought: South European Atlantic diet shows promising link to lower depression risk

By Bhavana Kunkalikar


In the current study, researchers report the significant benefits of SEAD on depression. This positive association may be due to the increased zinc, omega-3 fatty acid, and magnesium content present within SEAD food products.

27/06/2023 - News Medical

Healthy eating trends can positively impact mental health; however, it remains unclear whether the South European Atlantic Diet (SEAD) is associated with mental health problems. In a recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers examine the link between SEAD and the risk of depression.

What is the SEAD?

SEAD is a traditional diet consumed in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain, which may have some similarities with the eating habits of other European countries. Compared to other notable European diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, SEAD is high in dairy, legumes, meat, pork products, and fish, particularly cod.
There are numerous health benefits associated with adherence to SEAD, some of which include a healthier gut microbiota, reduced levels of various cardiovascular risk factors including C-reactive protein, triglycerides, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI), as well as a reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Although eating certain SEAD foods has been associated with a reduced risk of depression, the prevalence of depressive disorder has been reported to be higher in Spain and Portugal than in other European countries.
About the study

The current study involved the analysis of five cohort studies. The “Impact of Dietary Patterns and Sedentary Behavior on the Accumulation of Health Deficits and Physical Resilience in Older Adults (Seniors-ENRICA-1 and Seniors-ENRICA-2) are two study cohorts of people living in the Spanish community who are at least 60 and at 65 years old, respectively.

The Health, Alcohol, and Psychosocial Factors in Eastern Europe (HAPIEE) cohort, which was established between 2002 and 2005, consists of men and women between the ages of 45 and 69 from Polish cities. Furthermore, the Whitehall-II study cohort included data obtained from civil servants in London.
In addition to collecting data on depressive symptoms and dietary habits, the researchers also obtained demographic information on all study participants.
Adherence to SEAD was assessed using a point method consisting of nine food groups, including fresh fish, cod, pork products and red meat, dairy products, vegetables and legumes, vegetable soup, potatoes, whole grain bread, and wine. 
Depression was defined as a score of three or more on the Elderly Depression Scale (GDS-10), self-reported medical diagnosis, and prescribed antidepressant use at baseline and follow-up in the elderly-ENRICA cohort. At follow-up, depressive symptoms were assessed using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD-10). A score of four or more indicated depression. In the Whitehall-II study, depression was defined as a CESD-20 score of 16 or greater, reported prescription drug use or a diagnosis of primary/secondary depression, or reported major depressive episodes in the current or previous year.

SEAD is associated with a reduced risk of depression

Seniors-ENRICA cohorts reported consuming 861 foods, whereas the HAPIEE and Whitehall-II cohorts consumed about 140 and 116 foods, respectively. Dairy products were most frequently consumed within the SEAD diet, followed by legumes, vegetables, potatoes, red meat and pork products, vegetable soup, whole-grain bread, fresh fish, and cod.
People who adhered more strongly to SEAD had a higher level of education, less material deprivation, were non-smokers, had a higher BMI, and consumed fewer fruits, nuts, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
During an average follow-up period of 3.9 years, 1,437 new cases of depression were identified, with SEAD adherence associated with a reduced risk of depression. The risk of depression did not differ significantly between the Spain, Poland, and United Kingdom cohorts.
A higher consumption of fresh fish, cod, pork products, red meat, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, vegetable soup, and whole grain bread was more frequently associated with a reduced risk of depression as compared to a higher dairy content diet. When analyzed individually, consuming small amounts of wine was the only dietary product associated with a lower risk of depression.


Previous studies have described the health benefits associated with SEAD on gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health. To date, the impact of SEAD on mental health disorders remains unknown.
In the current study, researchers report the significant benefits of SEAD on depression. This positive association may be due to the increased zinc, omega-3 fatty acid, and magnesium content present within SEAD food products.