The Junk Food–Depression Connection

By Sandy Todd Webster
Mar 15, 2016

Step away from the refined carbohydrates. The sad irony is that consuming food we often describe as “comforting” actually has the strong potential to push postmenopausal women out of their emotional comfort zones and into depression.

A study published in June of 2015 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103846) by James Gangwisch, PhD, and colleagues in the department of psychiatry at Columbia University, looked at the dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, types of carbohydrates consumed and depression in data from more than 70,000 postmenopausal women who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1994 and 1998.

Consumption of carbohydrates increases blood sugar levels to varying degrees, depending on the type of food ingested. The more highly refined the carbohydrate, the higher its score on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI scale, which goes from 0 to 100, measures the amount of sugar found in the blood after eating. Refined foods—such as white bread, white rice and soda—trigger a hormonal response in the body to reduce blood sugar levels. This response may cause or exacerbate mood changes, fatigue and other symptoms of depression.

The investigators found that progressively higher dietary GI scores and consumption of added sugars and refined grains were associated with increased risk of new-onset depression in postmenopausal women. Greater consumption of dietary fiber, whole grains, vegetables and nonjuice fruits was associated with decreased risk. This suggests that dietary interventions could serve as treatments and preventive measures for depression.

Further study is needed to explore the potential of this option for treatment and prevention and to see if similar results are found in the broader population, say the authors.

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Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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