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Fast Food, Doughnuts Can Be Depressing, Study Confirms

Fast food can be depressing

Here’s some depressing news for fast food and doughnut lovers: Researchers have found an association between chowing down on fast food burgers or having your morning doughnut and the risk of depression. And this is in addition to the fact that these foods generally aren’t nutritious either.

Fast food is not happy food

Do you feel happy when eating pizza? How about when you eat a hot buttery croissant, a bagel smeared with cream cheese, or a big bag of fries? A new study from scientists at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra reports that eating these and similar foods increases the risk of developing depression by 51%.

The news gets more depressing. It seems that the more fast food you eat, the greater is your risk of depression, according to the investigators.

The study involved 8,964 volunteers who had never used antidepressants or been diagnosed with depression at the beginning of the study. Over an average evaluation period of six years, 493 of the volunteers were diagnosed with depression and began taking antidepressants.

Participants with higher intakes of fast foods and bakery items were not only more likely to develop depression; other traits were noted as well. For example, they were more likely to be single, smokers, sedentary, and have a poor diet (less consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil, a classic Mediterranean diet).

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Other food factors that affect depression
Some research suggests a deficiency of vitamin D may be linked to depression. A study from UT Southwestern Medical Center, for example, found that higher levels of vitamin D were associated with a lower risk of depression, while low levels were observed in people who had depressive symptoms.

A University College London study evaluated two groups of people: those who ate primarily whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, and fish, with a group who ate mainly fried foods, processed meats, refined grains, and sweetened desserts. Those in the latter group had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate few processed foods.

Foods that can improve mood
On the positive side, other research has indicated foods that can improve mood. Generally these are items that help increase serotonin levels and/or levels of nutrients known to be associated with mood.

For example, oats and almonds (magnesium), salmon (omega-3 and vitamin B12, both mood elevating), walnuts (omega-3s), spinach and other leafy greens (rich in folate, which boosts serotonin), carrots and hummus (complex carb plus protein), apples plus peanut butter (complex carb plus protein), turkey (contains tryptophan, which converts into serotonin), bananas (same as turkey), and dark chocolate (reduces stress hormone cortisol).

Although further research is needed, the results of this study and others suggest your diet can have an influence on your risk of depression. So pass by the fast food restaurants, pizza parlors, and doughnut shops, even if it feels depressing at the moment.

Sanchez-Villegas A et al. Fast-food and commercial baked goods. Consumption and the risk of depression. Public Health Nutrition 2012: doi:10.1017/S1368980011001856

Image: Wikimedia Commons