Forget Fat, Junk Food Could Be Making You Depressed

Trans fatty foods may up your risk of mental illness

Got a case of the winter blahs? Your doleful mood might have less to do with the lack of sunshine and more to do with the load of junk food you’ve been consoling yourself with. Digging to the bottom of an ice cream container in the pursuit of happiness -- or less misery, anyway -- is a time-honored tradition played out in just about every Meg Ryan rom-com. As every woman knows, fatty foods make us feel better -- or so we thought. According to new research, eating junk food isn’t only bad for your waistline and cholesterol levels, but also your mood. The study, which followed more than 12,000 people over the course of six years, found that people who ate the greatest amount of trans fats were at the greatest risk of depression. 

Researchers in Spain tracked the mental health, lifestyle habits and diets of 12,059 college graduates for six years. None of the participants had depression at the beginning of the study. By the end, 657 people had developed the condition. Those who consumed the most trans fat -- at least 0.6 percent of their daily calories -- had a 42 percent increased risk of depression, compared to those who ate the least amount of the fatty acid.

On the other end of the spectrum, some healthy fats appeared to protect against depression. The study found that those who ate the most olive oil -- about 20 grams, or 0.7 ounces a day -- had a 30 percent lower risk than those who consumed little to no olive oil. However, taking a swig of the oil isn’t likely to boost your mood if your diet is otherwise unhealthy, say the study’s authors. After further analysis, they found that a Mediterranean-style diet was a better predictor of good mental health than olive oil alone. This isn’t the first batch of research to link healthy eating habits to a sunnier disposition. A large 2009 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry also found that a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fish, olive oil, nuts and beans, lowered a person’s chances of developing depression.

The American Heart Association recommends that we keep our trans fat intake below one percent of our daily calories. How much trans fat is that roughly? If you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about two grams a day. However, the FDA suggests limiting our trans fat to 1.11 grams per day. Even if you’ve sworn off doughnuts, you could still be getting a fair share of the artery-clogging fat. Foods that claim to be trans fat free can have up to 0.49 grams of the stuff per serving. Eat two or three servings, and you’ve already exceeded your limit. Many foods that you would never suspect to have trans fat (microwave popcorn, baked crackers, cocoa mix, candy bars) are glutted with it. If you see the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredients label, your best bet is to stay away.

If your mood is plummeting faster than a skydiver without his parachute, you should seek professional help. In addition to therapy, exercise and/or medication, you may also benefit from giving your junk food diet the boot. Though it may bring pleasure to your taste buds, it won’t make you feel any better -- and it could even make you feel worse.

How do you boost your mood when you’re in a funk? Chime in below!


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