The Link Between Fast Food And Depression

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

The fast food industry makes millions of dollars each year based upon convenience, but new research is showing that this particular convenience could also be contributing to the growing number of people being treated for depression each year. While most people know that habitually eating fast food and other convenience foods aren't good for them, few people know just how bad these foods can be. Read on to learn more about the link between fast food and depression.

Fast Food And Depression

According to Spanish researchers from the University of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra, eating commercially baked goods and fast food increases the likelihood that a person will develop depression by a whopping 37 percent. This study also found that a dose-responsive relationship existed between fast food and depression. This means that the more fast food a person consumes the greater the chance that he or she will develop depression.

In addition, the same Spanish study found that there is a correlation between those who eat the most fast food and certain lifestyle and demographic traits, such as marital status, overall dietary habits, activity levels and work habits, which raises the question of whether fast food actually causes depression or if the development of depression is a result of the cumulative effects of these traits.

This particular study is not the first to point to this link, but instead supports the findings in earlier studies that found a link between those who eat fast food, even in small amounts, and depression. Another study published in the March/April 2011 edition of Preventative Medicine found that middle aged women suffer more depressive symptoms when consuming fast food "at least monthly." This study found that overweight black women were likely to consume fast food most often and experience the most symptoms.

[Related: The Major Health Hazards Of Fast Food]

Long Term Diet

Time seems to play a crucial role in the link between fast food and depression. Both the Spanish study and the Preventative Medicine study support the findings that those who consume large amounts of convenience foods like fast food and commercially produced baked goods have a higher rate of depression than those who seldom consume these products at all.

But in addition to the depressive effects of a long term diet of fast food and sugary baked goods, a number of other health problems can occur. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, and even an early death. For those with children, it also reinforces poor nutritional habits to younger generations, which will serve to perpetuate the cycle of poor health.

[Related: How Food Affects Your Mood]

Overall Dietary Impact

While simply cutting back on fast food and eating healthier is unlikely to completely treat depression, it is possible to make dietary changes that can make treatment more effective. For example, leading researchers from the British Dietetic Association have found that by increasing certain vitamins in the diet, depression medications become more effective. Not only does this lead to improved overall health, but it can lead to a cost savings when it comes to medications.

Foods That May Reduce Depression Risk

Because there seems to be a strong link between diet and depression, the British Dietetic Association suggests the following guidelines for those who are suffering even mild depression symptoms, though they caution that diet is not a replacement for treatment:

  • Eat regular meals. Just like a car needs gas, the body also needs fuel and that fuel is food. Often those with depression struggle to do basic tasks such as making healthy meals for themselves, which can cause further feelings of depression. Eating regular meals, including breakfast, is recommended to keep energy levels up throughout the day and help keep feelings of lethargy at bay.
  • Include protein at every meal. Most forms of protein contain tryptophan, a brain chemical that has been found to be lacking in those with depression. It isn't available in supplement form, so it must be consumed in the form of protein from meat, fish, eggs, milk, nuts (except peanuts), seeds and beans. Lean protein is the best as it contains the least amount of saturated fat, which is bad for the body.
  • Eat more oily fish. In addition to being good for heart health as well as the skin, fish oils also help fight depression symptoms. Eating 2-4 servings of oily fish per week (only 2 if pregnant or likely to become pregnant) can help decrease depression symptoms in addition to providing a very lean form of protein. The healthy omega-3 oils can also be found in flaxseed, rapeseed, soy and some nuts as well as in a number of fortified products such as milk and eggs. These oils are also available by supplement, but be sure that they contain DHA and EPA and don't take more than a gram per day.
  • Choose more whole foods. Whole foods in the form of grains, fruits and vegetables should be the backbone of everyone's diet. These foods contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals that improve overall health as well as depression symptoms. Opt for whole grain breads, nuts, seeds, beans fruits and vegetables and consume at least 5 servings per day for maximum benefit.
  • Drink plenty of fluid. Even slight dehydration can affect mood and energy levels. Experts recommend 6-8 glasses of fluid per day, but avoid caffeine, alcohol and soda as they can make depression worse and cause dehydration.
  • Consider a multivitamin. Those who haven’t been eating well for a considerable period of time could be deficient in vitamins or minerals. A simple multivitamin supplement can fill in the holes in the diet, but it shouldn't be considered a replacement for healthy food.

Cutting back on fast food may not immediately resolve a person’s issues with depression, but it’s a good start on the road to recovery. By taking better nutritional care of themselves, those with depression can reduce symptoms and get back to being happier and healthier.


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