When deciding whether to eat at McDonald's or try out the new vegan restaurant that everyone's raving about, most humans take into account their physical health (the ol' you are what you eat line of thinking) and/or their appearance (I want to fit into my favorite jeans). But rarely does anyone ever think about their mental health. Let's face it, a donut can you feel pretty great while you're eating it. Even I know that! And the sugar rush gives you a bit of temporary energy. But then what? After the high wears off, don't you often feel worse? You fall into a slump and may even be consumed with guilt for eating that donut in the first place. "A growing body of research is discovering that food doesn’t just affect your waistline but also your moods, emotions, and even longer-term conditions like depression. Which makes sense, after all. Our brains are physical entities, running on the energy that you put into our bodies, affected by shifts in our hormones, blood sugar levels, and many other biological processes." It's a fact that one-third of all Americans eat fast food on any given day. And who among us, and I mean humans and frogs alike, hasn't eaten french fries or a big slice of chocolate cake just to make ourselves feel better after a bad day?
"A paper published this year in Psychosomatic Medicine offers one of the most up-to-date snapshots of diet and mental health—specifically, how diet might play a role in depression." In sixteen studies done in the US, Australia, and Europe, with participants ranging in age from 21 to 85, it was discovered that those who ate the healthier diets had reduced levels of depression, less hopelessness, better sleep, and better social interactions than those who ate more junk food. The healthier diets included less processed foods, and more whole foods, like fruits and vegetables. This makes sense, right? But what was most interesting about these studies was found when the researchers dug deep into the details.
1. The healthy diet tended to work best for women. Why? Besides differences in hormones and metabolism, Firth conjectured, women seem to be in a better position to benefit. They’re more likely to be depressed and they might have more discipline at following diets than men.
2. The diet program worked best when administered by a dietary professional, like a dietician. This is probably because the recommendations were sounder and the participants (believing in the dietitian’s authority) were more apt to follow them. An earlier review of diet studies came to a similar conclusion.
3. Those participants who were experiencing a major depressive disorder seemed to be helped the most. After twelve weeks on the healthier diet, the depressed participants had reduced their depression and anxiety more—and they were about four times more likely to experience a remission from their depression. The more they improved their diet, the more their depression lifted,
So can what you eat make you happier? It’s one thing to say that your diet might protect you from depression and other mental health issues. But could the foods you eat move the needle toward more positive emotions and happiness? Recent studies weren't conclusive. It does make sense, however, that if you feel better you will be happier.
Should your wellbeing affect your shopping list? Absolutely! In my teaser yesterday about today's blog, I said that this wasn't a diet. It isn't. It's about making healthy lifestyle decisions. Everyone will cheat now and again, eating that donut instead of the apple. The real point here is to eat as healthy as you can as often as you can. These are the facts backed up by sixteen studies; people who were eating a typical Western diet of fast food, salty snacks, desserts, and soft drinks became more depressed over time. But eating a classic healthy diet high in fruit and vegetables, seafood, and whole grains or a more Mediterranean diet—which includes lots of olive oil and more legumes, meat, dairy, and alcohol—both seemed to protect against depression.
While eating a donut or slice of cake here and there isn't going to kill you, it can help you keep you in line with your healthy eating goals. No one wants to feel deprived when it comes to eating and is the big reason why diets fail. Believing that you can't ever eat something you love is a surefire way to lose your incentive to eat well. Allowing yourself the occasional treat can keep you more motivated. The key is moderation. If you suffer from depression it will always benefit you to reach for the apple or a few almonds when you need a pick-me-up.
As you may know, I like to do something more entertaining on my Friday blog. Tomorrow is no exception. when I'll be mentioning unmentionables. Until then, stay safe and stay well.