People know that what you eat influences how you feel, but our diet plays a bigger role in our mood than not feeling great after one too many burgers. So how does diet influence our mood? Recently four researchers from Australia tried to answer this question by reviewing the research up to this point.
They found that a lot of research has focused on the effect of a few isolated nutrients (i.e., fish oil, folate, magnesium, and zink). The evidence suggests that low levels of any of these might make a person vulnerable to depression. But before you run to the local pharmacy consider this, all of these nutrients are part of a healthy diet. Maybe the real issue isn't a low level of one or two vitamins, but is instead an overall low quality diet.
It turns out that there is a lot of research to back this up. Overall diet is linked with depression in every age group, from the elderly in Japan to children in Australia to middle aged women in America. In all these groups and many more, western style eating (high fat, sugar, processed foods etc.) is associated with depressive symptoms.
Some of you may be thinking, it is not surprising that bad eating is associated with depression, when you're depressed all you want to eat is junk. That may be true, but researchers have considered this. They looked at people before they were depressed and found that those who ate junk were more likely to get depressed and those who ate healthy weren't.
Unfortunately the story recently got worse. Norway just produced a study that looked at 23,000 mothers and their children. They found that mothers who ate junk food while pregnant were more likely to have children with behaviour problems (i.e., aggression, tantrums). The problems just get worse in the first year. Infants who ate poorly were more likely to have behaviour problems later on, as well as anxiety and depression.
One thing is abundantly clear, Westerner's have a terrible diet. I was again shocked when I read that only one in ten people in the United States is considered to have a healthy diet (National Health and Nutrition Surveys). Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the high rate of depression in our society. It should be mentioned that both psychologists and dieticians can help with these difficulties.
I know this information has affected my eating - at least for today. I hope it does the same for you.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Berk, M., Sarris, J., Coulson, C. E., & Jacka, F. N. (2013). Clinical overview: Lifestyle management of unipolar depression. Acta Pychiatrica Scandinavia, 127, 38-54.
Jacka, F. N., Ystrom, E., Brantsaeter, A. L., Karevold, E., Roth, C., Haugen, M., Meltzer, H. M., Schjolberg, S., & Berk, M. (2013). Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5 years: A prospective cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (10.1016/j.jaac.2013.07.002)