Does a tomato a day keep depression away?
The Daily Mail today reported that there is, “yet another good reason to tuck into that salad: eating tomatoes could ward off depression”.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, the chemical that gives them their distinctive colour. Lycopene is an antioxidant, a type of naturally occurring chemical believed to help protect against cell damage.
Previous research suggests foods high in antioxidants could have a preventative effect against physical diseases such as strokes. In this study, the researchers were interested in seeing if a similar preventative effect could also apply to depression.
The researchers assessed the mental health and dietary habits of 986 Japanese people aged over 70 years. They found that those who reported eating tomatoes two to six times a week were 46% less likely to report mild or severe symptoms of depression than those who said they ate tomatoes less than once a week. No such association was found for other vegetables.
This study has many limitations to consider, including a potential error in the way they measured dietary intake. Crucially, an inherent weakness of this type of research (a cross-sectional study) is that it can’t prove a direct cause and effect between reported tomato consumption and mental health.
It can also be subject to confounders. For example, it could be that in some cases, people who eat a lot of fresh fruit live a healthier lifestyle and take lots of exercise – and the exercise could be having the beneficial effects on mental health.
With those caveats in mind, this study is consistent with the advice that eating a healthy, varied and balanced diet is beneficial for both physical and mental health.
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