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Health researchers have found that people with healthy diets are less likely to have depression and anxiety. Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway and Deakin University in Melbourne analysed data collected from more than 5,700 middle-aged and older adults from western Norway.

"We found that the higher the dietary quality of these men and women, the less likely they were to be depressed," said Deakin academic Dr Felice Jacka. who led the study.

"Increased dietary quality was also associated with less anxiety in women, while those people eating more junk and processed foods were more likely to be anxious. Even after taking into account other demographic and lifestyle factors, these findings persisted."

Jacka said that similar associations had been shown in Australian women but not before in Norwegians. "We are starting to see a very consistent pattern here," she said.

"We have now assessed dietary quality in a number of different ways, in different countries, with different measures of mental health. In each of these studies, the results look very similar. This lends weight to the contention that diet plays a role in depression and anxiety."

The researchers observed that despite the high disease burden caused by depression and anxiety, psychiatry lacked an evidence-based message to help people reduce their risk for mental illness. But Jacka said this information could contribute to reducing the burden of illness in the community and improve outcomes for people suffering from these illnesses.

"It is important to recognise that the same healthy diets that help reduce risk for heart and other medical diseases may reduce the risk for depression and anxiety," she said.

Participants involved in the study filled in detailed questionnaires regarding their normal diets as well as completing additional questionnaires regarding their mood symptoms. Diet quality was assessed by determining how much and often the participants ate foods such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrain foods, low fat dairy, fish and non-processed red meats.

Other factors which may be associated with diet quality and depression, such as income and education, as well as physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption, were also taken into account.

Reports of the study were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.