Does Eating Junk Food Cause Depression?
We know that eating fast food and junk food on a regular basis isn’t good for us from a physical health standpoint, but it also has a major impact on our mental health as well. So does eating junk food cause depression?
Have you ever splurged on a fast food meal and then immediately regretted it? Or perhaps you were in a rush and low on cash so you bought a cheap burger and fries for dinner. After eating, did you feel like you were very low on energy, or just not like yourself? You aren’t imagining this! These feelings are common amongst people after consuming highly processed foods, and it isn’t a coincidence.
You are What You Eat
We’ve all heard the phrase “You are what you eat,”, and it couldn’t be truer. The food that you put inside of your body has a significant effect on not only your physiological health but also on your mental health.
Several studies have been created in order to test whether or not eating these highly processed “junk foods” have an effect on or cause depression. With over 16 million American adults suffering from some form of depression, researchers are working to determine if the two are connected.
There is proof through the association that eating junk food is linked to depression. This means that eating poor quality food isn’t the only reason for depression, but it definitely is involved and the two go hand in hand. Your gut and brain are connected. You can read more about the gut microbiome here.
In one report that was concluded in 2011, Spanish researchers released their findings after they had studied nearly 9,000 individuals for a span of six years, and determined that those who ate highly processed foods had a 48% higher risk for depression.
Other researchers are also linking the rising levels of teen depression with the increase in low-quality food consumption. Teenagers are famous for eating fast food, and as families are becoming busier, eating out is becoming even more commonplace for teens and their family members.
How Does Eating Junk Food Affect Your Body?
Whenever you consume fast food or any large amount of processed foods, it has a direct effect on your body. Fast foods especially are often fried, sugary and high in saturated fats and salts. French fries, hamburgers, ice creams, and chicken nuggets are some of the most popular. These foods all cause inflammation in your body. While inflammation is not known to cause depression directly, it does have negative effects on your body over time when it becomes chronic.
Recurring, chronic inflammation is not good for your body. This occurs when your body is continuously sending off signals to increase blood flow to areas of your body even though it’s not needed. The inflammation may then begin to attack your body’s tissues. Chronic inflammation is known to cause several health conditions including arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, weight gain, and several other conditions. Inflammation plays a huge role in its effect on your brain and other bodily functions.
Treating & Preventing Depression Naturally
Depression is often treated with pills and medications, but there is a much simpler and natural cure for depression as well, eating right. Eating a balanced, and healthy diet can be used as a treatment for depression.
Researchers recommend an anti-inflammatory diet, full of fiber, and vitamins, and low on unsaturated fats, like the foods outlined in our post Top 12 Anti-Inflammatory Foods you should eat. The Mediterranean Diet, which consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and little red meat or processed foods is one diet that researchers and health professionals approve of, though strictly adhering to a diet is not necessary. Simply replacing processed snacks and meals with alternatives that contain the recommended levels of nutrients will also work well. Even little substitutions over time will help you heal your body and reduce your inflammatory markers!
Anti-inflammatory foods are also naturally rich in key nutrients like selenium, iodine, choline, fatty acids, and serotonin. You need all of these important nutrients to have a well-functioning body. Consuming a healthy diet such as this one can also prove beneficial in lowering a person’s chance of developing depression.
As of 2017, researchers have found scientific proof that changes in diet can actually reverse the effects of depression. In this study, known as the SMILES trial, 76 adults with ages ranging from 17 to 35 were gathered. These individuals all regularly ate a diet of highly processed foods. Researchers divided the subjects into two groups, a control group who had no changes to their diet, and a “diet” group who received guidance to change their eating habits. Within three weeks, the diet group had lower levels of depression, and after three months the diet group’s low depression levels remained consistent.
What Else Causes Depression?
As the results state, the regular consumption of junk food is not the only or the direct cause of depression. Depression in individuals can occur for a variety of reasons. Depression is a complex disease that can stem from many sources such as, stressful life events, genealogical factors, nerve cell communication, and faulty mood regulation by your brain.
Key Points to Remember
While there is not yet concrete evidence that eating junk food causes depression directly, the two have been linked together. Eating a diet full of fried, sugary foods leads to inflammation in the body. Studies show that people who consistently consume these types of diets have nearly double the chance of developing depression as compared to someone who does not.
Patients suffering from depression are often prescribed medications to treat their symptoms, but the more natural approach of changing an individual’s diet is also believed to perform well, and can also prevent chances of depression.
By eating a well-balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, and low amounts of processed foods, an individual is able to decrease their chance of developing depression, and in some cases can also reverse it.
Of course, in order to see results from diet changes, consistency is key. Patients who are currently on medication or engaging in therapy to treat their depression should speak with their doctor to determine if a change in diet will prove beneficial to them.