It’s a common scene in many movies, when the main characters have a romantic breakup and one of them grabs a container of ice-cream and digs in. If that person is you in real life, using carb-loaded comfort food or sugary treats as pick-me-ups for a low mood, you may actually feel better if you stop and give up the junk food. While they may provide a short term high, eating too many sugars may actually contribute to an increased risk of depressive disorders. On the other hand, eating healthy food will help you cheer up and lower the chances of depression.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored the link between high-glycemic index foods and depression. The glycemic index is a measure that ranks how much a food raises blood glucose levels.
James E. Gangwisch, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in the USA, said, “When I was a kid, I was almost like a candy junkie. I noticed for myself, if I eat a lot of sugar, it makes me feel down the next day.”
In the research, Gangwisch and his team reviewed information for some 70,000 women from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which asked post-menopausal women questions about their food consumption. The women were also asked to respond to questions measuring signs of depressive disorders. All the women who showed no signs of depression were included in the study, and they were given a follow-up survey three years after their baseline survey.
The researchers found that diets that contained foods with higher glycemic indices, such as refined flour and added sugars, were linked with a higher risk of developing depression. In fact, added sugars were shown to have a strong link to depression, although the amount of total sugar or total carbohydrates had no effect.
Researchers also noticed that some foods had a more positive effect on mood disorders. Fiber, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lactose (from dairy products) all seemed to play a role in protecting against the risk of depression.
Gangwisch admits that changing attitudes will be tough. “It’s hard enough to get the general public to avoid those kinds of foods, but it’s even harder to get someone who suffers from depression to avoid them and give them up. You don’t want people to feel guilty either.”
However, he also added that focusing on healthy food is necessary. “I think it’s important and I think it has a big effect on your mood and how you feel and your energy level. If it’s something that people can change, they really would benefit from it.”
While the study shows a strong association between starchy or sugary diets and depression, the research team did not have an explanation for how it functions. The study team suspects that eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates increases the risk for inflammation and cardiovascular disease, which have been linked to an increased risk of depression. Further research is also needed to see how sugary diets affect men and younger women.
So if you are like those movie characters, then this is the part of the plot where everything starts picking up again, leading to the triumphant ending. You can do it, start by grabbing a carrot instead of a spoon!
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