It’s not hard to grasp the connection between the foods we eat and our physical well-being. It stands to reason that a healthy body thrives on healthy food. However, we may not understand that what we eat also affects our psychological well-being. In particular, researchers have found a direct link between nutrition and depression. In fact, a whole new science, called nutritional psychiatry, has evolved to examine the correlation between food and mood.
Depression is a common but serious condition that affects more than 16 million Americans.
Major depressive disorder:
is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15-44, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Major depression often follows a life event, such as the death of loved one, job loss, divorce, or a health crisis.
Persistent depressive disorder:
also called dysthymia or double depression, shares many of the same features as major depression, but is often less severe.
While many people believe depression results strictly from an emotional upheaval or biochemical imbalance, research has shown that diet can affect the onset, duration, and severity of depression. Refined sugars and other processed, starchy foods have an especially strong link to depression.
A study of nearly 3,500 adults from six industrialized nations, including the United States and Canada, showed those who ate a diet high in processed foods had a 58 percent increase in depression risk. In comparison, those who ate a diet rich in whole foods showed a 26 percent decrease in the risk for depression. Another study, of more than 70,000 postmenopausal women, showed an increase in new-onset depression that strongly correlated to proportionally higher intake of refined sugars and grains.
Another downside to eating sugary foods is that they have a negative nutritional value. That is, not only are processed sugars full of empty calories, they also deplete the body’s stores of chromium and B vitamins, which can lead to depression and dementia.
The upshot is that when we eat better, we feel better. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and seafood, while lowering our intake of refined sugars, refined grains, and processed foods can dramatically boost our emotional well-being.
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