Could Eating a Burger Make You Depressed?You may have seen the headline: A new study says that eating fatty or processed foods may contribute to depression and anxiety.
Well as they say, no kidding Sherlock. (Actually they don't say that exactly, but I avoided the foul alliteration.)
As an avid media consumer, I am bombarded with information about how healthy eating will improve my life: Drinking tea could make me live longer; less meat means more energy; and if I choose Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast over regular Cheerios--too much sugar--I should just stick my head under my pillow and call the day a wash.
So really, it's hard not to feel depressed when I buckle and scarf down a delicious cheeseburger or rip into a bag of nachos. Did I mention that burger was delicious? Okay, but now I feel guilty and anxious.
I saw this headline and thought, "How in the world did they come to that conclusion . . . scientifically."
A team at the University of Melbourne, Australia studied 1,046 randomly selected women aged 20-93 over a period of 10 years. They made psychiatric evaluations and assessed the women's habitual dietary patterns. And they found that women who consume what they refer to as a "Western" diet--burgers, pizza, white bread, chips, sugary drinks--were more likely to suffer from mood disorders than women who consume a "Traditional" Australian diet--vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains.
Here's the interesting part. This likelihood remained true regardless of a woman's age, body weight, social and economic status, education, physical activity, smoking, and boozing habits.
That surprised me. I was sure that eating a "Western" diet might lead to weight gain, which can also cause depression. Or guzzling down beer every night makes you crave pizza. Or living with a lower income leads to purchasing fast food--and anyone knows that being strapped for cash can make a person anxious. I assumed that all of these factors could be interrelated, so who is to say if eating junk is directly causing depression.
Well, no one can. The researchers conclude that "reverse causality" and "confounding" cannot be ruled out by their study. But their evidence that diet and mental health are related is very strong.
So why does it matter? Because more than 26 percent of Americans over the age of 18--that's 1 in 4 adults--suffer from mood disorders like depression or anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And depression is more common among women than men, which is downright annoying. These are serious medical illnesses that disrupt the lives of millions of people, and often those people feel helpless.
The value in this study is that it may present an option to people who are suffering. Emerging from a state of anxiety or depression is difficult, so if eating a little differently can help, why not at least try? Don't skip the burger when you really crave it. But if you're feeling downright awful, try to change your diet, and let's see if these Australians know what they're talking about.