Psychological health is deeply affected by physiological choices - one more reason to "think before you eat."
While the importance of consuming wholesome, unprocessed foods has almost become common knowledge in recent years, the average American’s diet is still predominantly (70%) made up of processed junk. A number of factors are to blame for this (finances, emotional cravings, physiological addiction, etc…), but it’s a less-than-stellar habit that needs to be curbed, for the SAD diet is contributing to a number of diseases of affluence.
According to a recent study conducted by Columbia University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there is a clear link between consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar and depression. The researchers stated that “any influence that refined carbohydrates has on mood could be commensurate (corresponding in size or degree) with their proportion in the overall diet.”
The researchers came to these conclusions by factoring in the glycemic index (GI), which runs from 0-100 and measures the amount of sugar in the blood after eating. Highly refined carbohydrates rank higher on the GI scale – and glycemic load, as well as overall carbohydrate and sugar intake.
In the report, it was detailed that excessive glucose levels in the body trigger a hormonal response that reduces blood sugar. This means – as summarized by Newser – that the same biological response may also trigger or worsen mood changes, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression.
It becomes clearer, then, when understanding this finding why ‘developed’ countries have the highest rates of depression. Those in poverty-stricken, rural areas are ‘forced’ to subsist off of simple, whole foods in meager proportions due to the scarcity of funds and food; yet, they still report higher levels of happiness. Intention and choice to be happy play their part, but the role physiological choices play in psychological health is essential to note.
For the study, scientists analyzed data from 70,000 postmenopausal women who had participated in a separate study between 1994 and 1998. They found that a high GI index score was commensurate with a 22% increased risk of depression. Women who consumed large amounts of added sugars and refined grains were found to have a 23% increased risk of depression.
Those that consumed healthy diets, however, were found to have a decreased risk of depression. That finding includes women who ate more whole grains, vegetables, and dietary fiber. By making a simple change and choosing to exclude refined sugar and white flour from their diet, they experienced increased levels of happiness.
There are, no doubt, differences between a menopausal woman and a teenage boy, for example, but this isn’t the first study of its kind to conclude devastating effects caused by consuming refined carbohydrates.
In 2012, a research team from Harvard School of Public health released its own study concluding carbohydrates to be linked with depression. The 12-year-study included 43,000 women with no history of depression, who were asked by the researchers about their eating habits. It was found that women who ate a lot of red meat and refined grains – such as bread, pasta and chips – were found to be 29% – 41% more prone to being diagnosed with or receiving treatment for depression.
By opting for more plant-based, whole foods (such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds), and including healthy fat sources with omega-3 fatty acids (like chia seeds, avocado, salmon, and unrefined coconut oil), you’ll no doubt experience a mood boost, but a reduced likelihood of developing depression later on in life.
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