In 2004, a revealing documentary came out called Super Size Me, which criticized fast food for playing a major role in the obesity epidemic. The documentary gained widespread recognition and helped to educate a broad audience about the negative health effects of consuming fast food on a regular basis. It is now widely known that much of what is available at fast food restaurants is loaded with sugar, fat and excess calories. This deadly combination can lead to weight gain, nutritional deficiencies and ultimately, chronic disease.
While most are aware that fast food is not the pinnacle of nutritious eating, many continue to make concessions with their health due its low cost and convenience. It is easy to justify the act of stopping at the drive through by promising to eat healthier the next day or by simply ignoring the slow on creep of pounds. But what if fast food did not just impact physical health? New research is emerging that indicates that it impacts mental health as well.
A new study was released in the Public Health Nutrition Journal, showing that eating fast food (hamburgers, hotdogs & pizza) and commercial baked goods (cakes, cookies, doughnuts) is tied to a greater risk of depression. In fact, those eating these food items on a regular basis showed a 51% increased likelihood of developing depression as compared to those eating very little or none. The study results suggested that a dose-response relationship exists, which according to the lead researcher, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, means, “the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression.”
These results are based on a long-term study that looked at 8,964 subjects that were part of the SUN Project (University of Navarra Diet and Lifestyle Tracking Program). This data is not the first of its kind; in fact, it supports similar findings in the SUN project 2011. According to Sánchez-Villegas, “although more studies are necessary, the intake of this type of food should be controlled because of its implications on both health (obesity, cardiovascular diseases) and mental well-being.”
Similar conclusions were drawn in Super Size Me. After a month of eating three fast food meals a day, Morgan Spurlock was both sick and depressed. He gained 24.5lbs, his cholesterol shot up to 230, and he developed a fatty liver. In addition, Morgan also experienced depressive mood swings and suffered from sexual dysfunction.
While a poor diet will of course make you feel bad, it is likely that the relationship between fast food and depression goes beyond the actual ingredients in fast food. The reality is if you are eating several meals on the run, you probably are not enjoying many meals at home with family and friends. As social animals, we need this time to connect with others.
At the same time, an increasing amount of research is emerging that suggests there is an intricately linked relationship between what we eat, how we eat, and our mental health. For example, we now know that omega-3’s improve learning and memory, and that a deficiency can lead to depression. We also know that tryptophan, the chemical component of turkey that makes you sleepy, helps induce a sense of relaxation and calm. There are numerous other components of food as well that have been proven to impact our mental health and wellbeing.
Food is meant to be both enjoyable and nourishing and even the most busy of individuals can find the time to prepare food at home with a little advance planning. For some ideas on how to cook at home economically and efficiently, check out my earlier blog post “10 Keys to Feeding a Family on a Budget.”
Assistance provided by Allison van Camp.