Cry Me a Donut

March 30, 2012

Rheanna Sand

What we ingest and how we feel about ourselves are two concepts that are intricately intertwined. Yet, physical health is often treated as a separate entity than mental health. But we truly are what we eat. The proper functioning of our muscles, nerves, and organs depends on the quality of the starting material (proper carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and the metabolic boosters we provide to our cells (salts, minerals, and vitamins). And physical dysfunction can lead to mental dysfunction like depression and social isolation.

But in my mind, this leads to a "chicken and the egg" dilemma: which comes first, the depression or the donuts?

A recent study from a group of Spanish researchers published in Public Health Nutrition suggests that bad foods lead to, well, bad moods. They followed a cohort of almost 9000 people for an average of 6.2 years, who had never been diagnosed with depression and who reported their dietary choices over the study period. They considered, specifically, fast food and consumer pastries. In the end, those who ate more of these foods had a 51% higher risk of depression compared to those who ate less. And the more fast food they ate, the more likely they were to be diagnosed or to take antidepressants.

Mmmm... consumer pastries...


But doesn't depression make you want to eat burgers and fries and donuts? How can we distinguish causality from simple correlation? They did it by only looking at individuals who had not been previously diagnosed with depression. But what if these people were going to develop it anyway, and when they did, they started eating poorly? It's a difficult relationship to untangle, and would require following people essentially throughout their entire lives, documenting what they eat, when they develop depression, and relating it to all the other factors that could be causing their mental state.

Nonetheless, this study does provide another weapon in the nutritional arsenal against so-called "comfort food." Mabye we should just rename it "sadness food."


Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression

Almudena Sánchez-Villegas, Estefania Toledo, Jokin de Irala, Miguel Ruiz-Canela, Jorge Pla-Vidal and Miguel A Martínez-González (2012).

Public Health Nutrition, Volume 15, Issue 03, March 2012 pp 424-432



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