Food & Your Mood: Exploring the Junk Food-Depression Link April 7, 2016
Food & Your Mood: Exploring the Junk Food-Depression Link April 7, 2016

Life is full of cruel ironies—like the guy afraid of flying who wins an around-the-world plane ticket or the horticulturalist who struggles with hay fever. In a slightly different way, so-called “comfort foods” also offer some irony.

Many people, especially those with food addictions, gain a bit of a high by eating fatty, sugary or salty foods, thanks to a temporary surge in dopamine and other brain chemicals. But the result of embracing French fries, chicken nuggets and jelly beans as staples of your diet can be a one-two punch that includes depression when that initial high subsides. According to a series of studies, junk-food lovers are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who eat little or no junk food.

Supporting this correlation, a report published in Psych Central discusses the cyclical nature of fast food consumption and the blues: “Poor eating habits lead to weight gain, poor body function, low energy and can enhance the effects of depression.”

Break the Chain: Explore Healthy Alternatives
As it turns out, nature offers some great alternatives to the proverbial Twinkie with a 30-year life expectancy. Researchers have identified several chemicals and nutrients that are abundant in natural foods that can actually stabilize and/or elevate your mood. These include:

Note that research has also found the amino acid tryptophan increases the production of serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer, in the brain. Luckily, you can find tryptophan in a wide variety of savory and sweet foods, including turkey, salmon, fish, cheese, and pineapples.

Next Stop, the Greek Isles
Even more interesting: Certain cuisines around the world in which these foods are prominent have been linked to lower incidences of depression. Specifically, the diets enjoyed in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, among others, include lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and olive oil—all depression-fighting agents. These cuisines are also not dependent on the processed foods that are a staple of U.S. diets.

Make a Few Swaps for Happiness
So the next time you have a craving for a juicy (greasy) burger or a rich (sugar-filled) candy bar, try a turkey sandwich or some plums instead. You may get that Friday-night feeling, even if it’s only Wednesday at 2 p.m.

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