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Dec 16, 2013

Poor Food Choices Associated With Depression

"Dietary choices truly affect the way we feel"

While everyone has undoubtedly heard the quote, “You are what you eat,” some of us still prove to need convincing that dietary choices truly affect the way we feel.  According to a large cohort study that included nearly 9000 adult participants in Spain, over consumption of junk foods is associated with depression.  For participants who regularly ate “fast foods” like hamburgers and pizza, there was a 40% increased likelihood for becoming depressed compared with participants who ate smaller amounts or no “fast foods.”  Interestingly, risk for depression rose steadily when higher amounts of junk foods were eaten.  Risk for depression was also found to be higher in adults who frequently consumed baked goods like doughnuts, muffins, and croissants.    

“We were not surprised with the results.  Several studies have analyzed the association between fast food and commercial bakery consumption and physical diseases, such as obesity or coronary heart disease,” according to Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, PhD.  Dr. Sánchez-Villegas is from the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra in Spain. 

The study, published in Public Health Nutrition, aimed to determine the role that fast food and processed food consumption plays in the development of depression.  Starting in 1999, researchers began tracking diet and lifestyle choices on an ongoing basis.  Prior to the beginning of the study, no participants had taken any antidepressants before or received any diagnosis of depression.  

On a bi-annual basis, participants were asked to fill out surveys as a way of assessing dietary intake.  Researchers analyzed total consumption of “fast foods” and commercial baked goods, including things like hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, croissants, doughnuts, and muffins.  Researchers also analyzed incidence of depression, use of antidepressant medications, as well as lifestyle data.      

Results of the study indicated that within about 6.2 years after study initiation, 493 participants had been diagnosed with depression.  Those adults who consumed the most “fast foods” had a corresponding higher risk for developing depression.  These adults, in addition to those eating high amounts of commercial baked goods, also tended to be single, less active, smoke, work over 45 hours weekly, and eat diets lower in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and/or olive oil.  Even small amounts of “fast foods” were found to be associated with a significantly increased depression risk. 

A number of studies now support the idea that mental well-being is heavily influenced by daily dietary and lifestyle habits.  Any comprehensive treatment approach for depression should absolutely take into account and work to optimize a person’s lifestyle choices and the foods they put into their body on a regular basis.  This will surely increase the odds of success!  

Dr. Shana McQueen