Whenever there’s something amiss with our health, there’s almost always a link between that problem and the food we consume. Sometimes the link is more obvious, like a high sodium (salt) diet and high blood pressure; other times, the link may not be so apparent.
Depression is a disease that is often dismissed as something that can easily be controlled by simply “cheering up.” However, depression is not just a “funk” that you find yourself in; it’s not as simple as being sad or down about a recent event, like a bad breakup or a loved one passing away.
Depression is much deeper than that. But are we overlooking the link between depression and diet?
So, what is depression?
Depression is a “brain disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life,” as defined by the Mayo Clinic.
Depression is a very common, but very serious mental disease that can reveal itself through many different symptoms: sadness, hopelessness, lack of interest, fatigue, anxiety, trouble thinking or concentrating, even physical pain, and more. Depression can be hereditary, which can make it even harder to understand its occurrence. But the good news is that it’s treatable. Both psychotherapy and medications (natural and synthetic) have been proven to help patients manage depression.
So can food play a role? Absolutely.
Public Health Nutrition published a journal, and in it the study found that “people who eat fast food and commercial baked goods are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who eat little to none.” James E. Gangwisch, PhD, an assistant professor at Columbia University in the department of psychiatry, conducted an experiment that was documented by Time Magazine using roughly 70,000 non-depressive women. He wanted to find out if foods with a higher glycemic index had a greater association to depression. Glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Also known as “blood sugar.”
He found that, “diets higher on the glycemic index, including those rich in refined grains and added sugar, were associated with greater odds of depression.”
This finding was strongly associated with added sugar, however, not natural or ‘complete’ sugars, which are sugars found in, say, fruit and starchy vegetables.
“This kind of diet could also lead insulin resistance, which has been linked to cognitive deficits similar to those found in people with major depression.”
The research went on to reveal that “some aspects of diet had protective effects against developing depression, including fiber, whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables and lactose, a sugar that sit low on the glycemic index.”
The role sugar plays in all of this
If you ask any health expert, they’ll tell you that sugar is one of the most dangerous substances that we can legally consume, and whether consciously or unconsciously Americans are taking in loads of the stuff everyday.
The recommended amount is roughly 50 grams per day, which equates to 200 calories for a person on a 2,000 per day caloric intake. Fortunately, since we’ve become a bit more aware of sugar’s effects, we’ve cut back in recent years. According to the US Department of Agriculture, “After plateauing in recent years, consumption was down to 94 grams a day in 2015… But that level is still higher than the 87 grams Americans consumed on average in 1970.”
Sugar tastes so good, so why it’s so bad?
Well, sugar is a preferred feeding source for cancer. In fact, cancer loves sugar. Sugar contributes to acidity and cancer thrives in an acidic environment, so that’s why cancer wants you to keep putting in sugar.
Sugar creates an environment where cancer can thrive, grow, and ultimately spread.
But when we talk about sugar, we’re not talking about the naturally occurring sugars found in foods like juicy red apples or beautiful yellow bananas. Fruit is nature’s version of desert! Unlike nature, our version of desert is usually not fruit. It’s junk. And this “junk” food is the stuff that’s made with added sugar—the white, granulated or powdery stuff that sits on the table waiting to be poured into a drink or over our food.
With more junk foods, though, the companies have already done the honor of pouring it in for us. Soft drinks, candy, baked goods, even breads and cereals, are all loaded with sugar before we even get the chance to swipe our card to buy it.
Sugar added to our food can come in many forms and go by many names. “There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels. These include common names, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as barley malt, dextrose, maltose and rice syrup,” says Sugar Science. And that’s just to name a few.
Things that can naturally help with depression?
“Many studies have shown benefit of individual nutrients, like omega-3s and B vitamins in being protective against depression,” says Depression Toolkit, an online resource to help manage and prevent depression.
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. 5-HTP increases the production of serotonin. Serotonin can affect sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation.
Good fats – increase your intake of fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, and nuts like walnuts and avocado, which help contribute to lifting your mood.
Turmeric is powerful spice that fights inflammation and boosts mood. Add turmeric to any savory dish, or make a Golden milk drink with coconut milk, honey and turmeric for an anti-inflammatory beverage.
Dark chocolate – all you need is a small piece of chocolate high in cacao—70% or so—to reap the benefits of serotonin, which helps to relax the blood vessels in the heart. We are not saying that junk food is the reason for depression, but we are saying that it doesn’t help. There’s no doubt that there’s a very strong link between depression and a poor diet—one that’s high in processed, high sugar foods.
So whether you suffer from momentary sadness or chronic depression, look at the things you’re eating or not eating as part of the cause. The old saying, “You are what you eat,” can take on many meanings, and eating crap will certainly make you feel like it.
Please, do not take depression lightly. If you or a loved one are suffering from depression, there are resources available to help. Visit PsychCentral.com for tips on where to start.