health

That sneaky trip to Maccas could have very real consequences on something other than your waistline…

Could what you’re eating be making you depressed?

Everyone has their own happy foods and their… not-so-happy foods. Foods that we really look forward to eating, and foods that we avoid like the plague if they happen to be listed on a menu. Food that makes you really miserable if you’re forced to eat it.

But there is a whole new field of research that is focused on the serious connection between diet and mental health. And while many of the discoveries are still being researched, the statistics so far are significant – and definitely worth taking into consideration.

You see, depression currently affects 121 million people worldwide. And while there are many reasons for why someone might develop depression, one of those reasons might be directly related to what they eat.

A study has been published in the Public Health Nutrition journal, detailing exactly which eating habits have been found to correlate strongly with the development of depression. The study found that junk food was the most likely culprit – with consumers of fast food being 51% more likely to develop depression.

It’s a scary statistic, yes. Researchers looked at people who consumed foods such as hamburgers, sausages, pizza and baked goods, and assessed them over a period of 6.2 years. It was found that at the end of the period of assessment, 493 cases of depression – as diagnosed by a physician – were reported. These cases were associated directly with the consumption of fast food.

Interestingly, the results didn’t change after the adjustment for the consumption of other food items. Those with the lowest level of consumption of junk food were not at such a high risk of developing depression.

It’s not the only study that has highlighted the link between unhealthy food and mental health. A new study out of Oxford University in the UK was recently shared with the general public; it revealed that the consumption of processed junk food consumption can lead to aggression, irritability or violent tendencies.

The study was based on a group of prison inmates. The doctor who led the study, Dr Drew Ramsey, gave vitamin supplements to some prison inmates, and compared their behaviour to prisoners who ate junk food.

“Those who took the vitamin supplements were found to be less aggressive than those who ate junk food.”

Those who took the vitamin supplements were found to be less aggressive than those who ate junk food. Dr Ramsey linked this back to nutrient deficiency in general, which he said is becoming correlated with violent behaviour.

Penn State researchers also did their own study in relation to women and unhealthy eating behaviours. They found that women – particularly those attending university – reported that their moods worsened after they experienced a bout of unhealthy eating, such as binge eating.

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Anyone who’s ever binged on extensive snacks will tell you that the research isn’t exactly groundbreaking. No woman ever feels good about herself after eating an entire packet of Tim Tams and most of a tub of ice-cream. However, what was important about this study was the change of moods.

Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center, said that there was “little in the way of mood changes” before the unhealthy eating – “however, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviors.”

This research was specifically gathered from women who had a certain level of unhealthy eating habits (who doesn’t?) but were not classified as having an eating disorder. And it was found that their mood changed significantly when they did eat badly – showing just how much emotion is involved with everything that you do or don’t eat.

USANA nutritionist Ravinder Lilly has also suggested some of the other foods to avoid if you are focused on caring for your mental health:

1. Caffeine (as too much of it stimulates your central nervous system and result in a racing heart, anxiety and sweating);

2. Cutting carbohydrates from your diet (researchers at MIT found that those who attempt low-carb diets suffer mood swings, as their brain is lacking in seratonin);

3. Skipping breakfast (extensive research around the world has shown that skipping breakfast affects both kids and adults; both may suffer from diminished mental performance and more fatigue); and

4. Food & drink that’s high in GI (they influence your blood glucose levels and, in turn, everything else).

As for what you SHOULD eat to boost your brain power? Many nutritionists and dietitians highly recommend:

Coffee can make you feel good, but it can also result in a racing heart, anxiety and sweating.

– Omega-3 fats (best found in oily fish – salmon anyone?)

– Wholegrains – brown rice, brown pasta

– Nuts and seeds

– Blueberries (which have even been found to reduce the effects of diseases such as dementia)

– Avocados and tomatoes

How much do you think your diet influences your mood?

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