The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet is recognized as one of the healthiest diets available right now. It is credited with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, controlling gout and kidney disease, and now, a new study claims it can also reduce the risk of depression in older adults.

Research conducted by the Rush University Medical Center shows older adults who followed a diet centered on vegetables, fruit and whole grains, were less likely to develop depression than people who did not closely follow the diet.

"Depression is common in older adults and more frequent in people with memory problems, vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or people who have had a stroke," said study author Dr Laurel Cherian, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor in Rush's Department of Neurological Sciences. "There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression."

For the study, funded by the National Institutes of Aging, the team evaluated 964 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project with an average age of 81. They were studied over a period of approximately six-and-a-half years during which time they were monitored for symptoms of depression.

The subjects were expected to fill out questionnaires detailing the kind of foods they ate on a regular basis — whether their meals adhered to the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet (olive oil, fish and vegetables) or the traditional Western diet (red meats, saturated fats).

While the complete study is yet to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 70th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in April, according to the press release, the groups that adhered more closely to the DASH diet were 11% less likely to develop depression as opposed to those individuals who did not follow the diet closely.

The results indicated that the group who followed the Western diet was more likely to develop depression.

At this point, the study was only able to identify an association between the DASH diet and a reduced risk of depression. Cherian believes additional research is required.

"Future studies are now needed to confirm these results and to determine the best nutritional components of the DASH diet to prevent depression later in life and to best help people keep their brains healthy," she said.

What does the DASH diet comprise of?

The DASH diet calls for a focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains along with low-fat dairy products. According to the Mayo Clinic, it encourages users to reduce sodium intake and instead increase consumption of foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Fish, poultry and legumes along with nuts and seeds should be eaten in small quantities a few times a week. While red meat is allowed, the diet recommends it is trimmed of fat and consumed in small quantities.

Alcohol is restricted to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.