Foods That Make You Depressed

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August 7, 2010
By Louise Carr, Staff Columnist

We’re always being told we are what we eat. They may explain why
eating junk food can literally put your mood in to the bottom of the
garbage can? And eating a balanced diet full of fresh fruit and
vegetables, quality meat and fish and healthy fats will make you feel
good. Foods affects your body and your mind. If you’re guzzling
super-sized sodas and coffee on the run, while feasting on burgers
and fries and candy, your body won’t thank you and your mood won’t
be the best it can be.  So, which foods can make you depressed? Are
there foods you should avoid if you want to boost your mood?

First, let's understand some basics about depression.
Depression is a medical condition that affects nearly 21 million
American adults each year, according to the National Institute of
Mental Health. Symptoms of depression commonly include a persistent
sad, anxious, or "empty" feeling, restlessness or irritability, loss of
interest or pleasure in activities, tiredness, difficulty concentrating and
insomnia or excessive sleeping. When you’re depressed you may
overeat or lose your appetite. This creates a viscous circle as food can
also affect your mood, creating depressive symptoms.

Mood-Lowering Foods

Here are 10 foods to avoid if you are depressed or if you want to
boost your mood:

Chocolate Depresses Your Mood

Ever felt down and reached for a chocolate bar? Next time, you may
want to skip the delicious brown stuff. Research has discovered that
depressed people eat more chocolate.  

A 2010 study from the University of California, San Diego, looked at
931 adults not using antidepressants who provided information on
chocolate consumption (frequency and amount) and completed the
Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale. Those
who were defined as suffering from depression reported eating
significantly more chocolate than those who weren’t depressed.

Depressed people consumed almost 12 servings of chocolate per
month, those with lesser depression scores ate around eight servings
of chocolate a month. According to the scientists, several nutrient
factors that could be linked to mood, such as increased intake of
caffeine, fat and carbohydrates, didn’t affect mood, suggesting relative
specificity of the chocolate finding.
The question is, does chocolate cause depression or does depression
make you want to reach for the chocolate bar? "The study," said lead
researcher Dr. Golomb, "does not address the issue of whether
chocolate is beneficial or harmful in terms of mood, as this is an
observational and cross-sectional study."

Sugar Gives You the Blues

Chocolate does, of course, contain sugar, particularly highly-processed
chocolate that’s low in cocoa-solids. Could this ingredient be
responsible for increasing symptoms of depression? Scientists think so.

Arthur N. Westover, M.D. and Lauren B. Marangell, M.D. at the Mood
Disorders Center (MDOC), Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston
Texas,  put together a study to examine the cross-national relationship
between sugar consumption and major depression.

The study correlated per capita consumption of sugar with the
prevalence of major depression, figures for which were obtained from
the Cross-National Epidemiology of Major Depression and Bipolar
Disorder study [Weissman et al., 1996] and sugar consumption data
from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The researchers found there was a highly significant correlation
between sugar consumption and the annual rate of depression.

After you eat highly-sugared food your blood sugar level rises and
spikes. Your body compensates by dragging your blood sugar down
and this causes a sudden drop in energy that requires another sugar-
hit to bring it up again. Avoid the viscous cycle, and the corresponding
drop in mood and energy levels, by keeping your body fuelled with
complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Skip sugary snacks.

Processed Foods Can Get You Down

Research has found that a typical "Western diet", loaded with
processed foods, increases the risk of depression. A 2010 study from
the University of Melbourne, Australia, found that women who
consumed a ‘Western diet’ high in fats and processed foods were
more than 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression than
women who ate a traditional diet of mixed meat, vegetables, healthy
fats and non-processed foods.
Another 2009 study from University College London, UK and the
University of Montpellier, France, found that a healthy ‘whole food’
diet protected middle-aged people from depression compared to a
processed-food diet. The study looked at 3,486 participants of
average age 57 years who were part of the Whitehall II study. The
whole food diet comprised mainly fresh fruits and vegetables and fish,
while the processed diet was made up of mainly sugary desserts, fried
food, high fat dairy foods, processed meat and fast food. People who
most closely matched the whole food diet had a 26 per cent lower risk
of depression and participants whose diet was high in processed foods
had a 58 per cent higher risk of suffering from depression.

Bad-Quality Meat Can Bum You Out

According to the cross-sectional study conducted by the University of
Melbourne, lean, "quality meat" --meaning meat that comes from
animals raised on pastures -- is part of a whole food diet that
effectively decreases depression.

However, study author Dr. Jacka reported that high-quality meat is
difficult to source in the US because cattle here are fed a corn-based

Dr. Jacka claims corn-fed meat "increases saturated fat and decreases
very important good fatty acids. Whereas in Australia, red meat, such
as beef and lamb, comes from pasture-raised animals, so it has a much
healthier fatty acid profile.” The study found people in Australia who
consumed more beef or lamb were less likely to have depression and
anxiety. “Red meat that comes from feedlots tends to be higher in
omega-6 fatty acids - a fatty acid profile that is far less healthy and
may in fact be associated with more mental health problems," Dr.
Jacka said.

Caffeine Can Lower Your Mood

Research showing a direct link between caffeine and depression is
lacking, however anecdotal experience suggests that caffeine and
depression are tangled together in many significant ways. Caffeine
makes it more difficult to fall and stay asleep, and when you’re not
sleeping well you are more prone to depression. If you abruptly stop
drinking caffeine you may experience a worsening of mood or other
depressing symptoms such as headaches and tiredness.

Caffeine may not even give you a buzz. A 2010 study from Bristol
University, UK, found that frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance
to coffee’s stimulatory and anxiety-producing effects. While you may
feel more alert after drinking coffee, the study suggests this is due to a
reversal of caffeine withdrawal and that caffeine doesn’t give you any
real benefits because it also increases blood pressure and anxiety. Co-
lead author Dr Peter Rogers said "Our study shows that we don't gain
an advantage from consuming caffeine - although we feel alerted by it,
this is caffeine just bringing us back to normal."

2008 research by Durham University, UK, found people who drank a
lot of caffeine were more likely to experience hallucinations including
hearing voices and seeing things that are not there. Those who drank
more than seven cups of coffee a day, or equivalent, were three times
more likely to have had hallucinations than those who had a low intake
of caffeine. One possible explanation, researchers reported, was that
caffeine amplifies the effects of stress by boosting the release of the
stress hormone cortisol. This can lower mood over time and cause
mental health problems.

Low Carb Diet Can Make You Depressed

Low-carb diets are all the rage. But did you know that eating too few
carbs may lower your mood? Although the cause of depression is
largely unknown, serotonin in the central nervous system plays an
important role. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter said to have a calming
effect on the body and to play a role in sleep. Carbohydrates raise
serotonin levels naturally, acting as a natural tranquillizer and

Combining carbohydrates and proteins ups the availability of serotonin
in your brain and if you eat a low-carb diet you are at risk of lowering
the amount of serotonin you can receive. According to authors
Johnston, Tjonn, Swan, White, Hutchins and Sears from Arizona State
University, a very low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet increased fatigue,
lowered mood and reduced the desire to exercise in overweight adults
after just two weeks.

A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology of 100 men
and women found that dieters on a low-carb, protein-rich diet were at
increased risk of mood swings and depression than those on high
carbohydrate, low protein diets. It’s important to choose the right
carbohydrates, however, as simple carbs (processed foods, white
bread and white grains) don’t give the same benefits as whole grains,
fruits and vegetables. Don’t be tempted to go to the other extreme, as
we all need adequate levels of protein in order to maintain good
mental and physical health.

Alcohol Lowers Your Mood

Alcohol lowers your mood and drinking too much can increase the risk
of developing depression. A study conducted by the University of
Otago, New Zealand, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry
found excessive alcohol drinking may increase the risk of depression.
The study looked at 1,055 children who were monitored over 25
years. "At all ages, there were clear and statistically significant trends
for alcohol abuse or dependency to be associated with increased risk
of major depression," wrote David Fergusson at the University's
department of psychological medicine. According to Dr Achal Misra,
specialist, and Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams, MRC clinical scientist,
senior lecturer and honorary consultant, up to 40 per cent of people
who drink heavily have symptoms that resemble a depressive illness.
About 5 to 10 percent of people with a depressive illness also have
symptoms of an alcohol problem, leading to suggestions that the
correlation between the two is complicated. However, it’s clear that
sticking to alcohol in moderation is a good strategy to avoid
depression and mood swings.

Diets Low in Tryptophan Increase Your Risk for Depression

Just as trytophan is necessary to maintain a good mood, too little
tryptophan can lower your mood. When tryptophan, a nonessential
amino acid, enters the brain, more serotonin is released and your
mood generally improves. Serotonin is made naturally in the brain
from tryptophan, assisted by B Vitamins, and carbohydrates.

If you’re not getting enough tryptophan, your serotonin levels will
decrease and this can cause depressive symptoms. Research from
McGill University, Montreal, Canada, found tryptophan depletion
causes a rapid lowering of mood in normal males. The study gave men
amino acid mixtures which were tryptophan-free, balanced or
contained excess tryptophan. The tryptophan-free mixture caused
significantly elevated scores on the depression scale, indicating a rapid
mood-lowering effect. Tryptophan is found in protein food sources
like lean meat, fish and especially turkey.

Lack of Selenium-Rich Foods Can Lower Your Mood

Research has indicated a link between low levels of selenium and low
mood. According to a study from the Texas Tech University, 200mg of
selenium a day for seven weeks improved mild to moderate depression
in the study’s 16 elderly patients. Foods rich in selenium include
seafood, nuts and seeds (particularly Brazil nuts), lean meat and
whole grains.

Fast Food Can Lower Your Mood

Apart from being highly processed and high in fat, sugar and salt; fast
food and eating food on-the-go encourages erratic eating patterns,
causing dangerous spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. If you’re not
sticking to regular meals you’re also more likely to reach for unhealthy
snacks and caffeinated drinks to make you feel better, which end up
making you depressed. Lack of energy makes it less likely you’ll go to
the gym to improve your mood. You also need to drink enough water,
regularly, as dehydration can cause stress, headaches and irritability.
Sit down and enjoy your healthy food, serve it carefully and take time
over eating it. You owe that to your body and to your mind.

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