Is Your Diet Making You Depressed?

These "discomfort foods" may increase your risk of depression

We all seek solace in food sometimes. Perhaps the perfect PB&J, to improve a less-than-perfect day. Or mac 'n' cheese to soothe the blues. Or a family-recipe meatloaf that's like a hug from mom. It's called "comfort food" for a reason.

But wait! Next time you're tempted to seek comfort in the arms of the Burger King, consider that while food does have a way of (temporarily) soothing sadness, some foods also appear to contribute to depression. Think of them as "discomfort food."

While most food eaten in moderation is no big deal, research has found that too much of some foods in your daily diet may put you at greater risk for depression.

Refined carbohydrates: These foods started out as perfectly healthy plant-based foods, but then they had the whole grain, and many of the nutrients, processed out of them-think white and quick-cook rice, sugary breakfast cereals, and packaged white bread. In a study of more than 70,000 women cited in Prevention magazine, Columbia University researchers found that the higher women's blood sugar spiked after eating refined carbs, the higher their risk for depression; meanwhile, a diet with lots of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables lowered that risk.

Sugar: That same blood-sugar spike occurs, not surprisingly, when you eat sugar. But sugar also has been found to increase inflammation in the body, and research published in JAMA Psychiatry found that brain inflammation was 30 percent higher in people with clinical depression, suggesting a link between sugar and depression. Switching to artificial sweeteners is not the answer, especially if you already suffer from depression. One study described by Food World News found that aspartame made depressed people so much more depressed, the researchers decided to cut their study short to keep everyone safe; some participants had reported suicidal thoughts. So next time you clean out your fridge, that diet soda also has to go.

Junk food: According to Shape magazine, people who eat a lot of junk food (think burgers, fries, hot dogs) and commercial baked goods were more than 50 percent likelier to be depressed than people who did not. Of course, the food itself might not be the only problem; researchers also found that people with a high-junk diet were also more likely to be single, sedentary, and generally eat poorly. And we know that people who are depressed are more likely to be smokers and workaholics. All this suggests that if you find yourself in the drive-through several times a week, you might want to take a step back and evaluate your lifestyle in general.

Processed foods: The foods you find in boxes and cans in the middle aisles of the supermarket-even things marked "organic" and "natural"-are likely to be processed. This means refined carbs, sugar or sugar substitutes, and high sodium-all of questionable value to your physical and mental health. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that middle-aged people who ate a diet high in processed foods were at higher risk for depression five years later. Other research finds that the Mediterranean diet-lots of legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables-reduces depression risk (as well as boosting heart health). So shop the periphery of the supermarket, where you'll find fresh produce, meats, and dairy, to get the best results for your body and mind.

Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant, and even small amounts can sometimes give you the blues. WebMD reports that that almost a third of people with major depression also have a problem with alcohol-although it appears that depression leads to drinking, rather than the other way around. Teens who have suffered a major depression are twice as likely to start drinking as teens who haven't. And drinking does affect impulse control, which can lead to the kinds of repercussions-including loss of relationships, jobs, money-that would make anyone depressed. So a glass of wine now and then is no big deal (unless it makes you weepy), but if you're turning to alcohol every time you hit a rough spot, you might end up making yourself feel worse in the long run.

Stresscenter.com's Attacking Anxiety & Depression program was developed by Lucinda Bassett, and Dr. Philip Fisher, MD, who leveraged the skills, methods and techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Modification as the core of the self-treatment process. Since 1983, the program has helped over 1.4 million people to recover from acute stress, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive worry, and depression.


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