Can Fast Food Make You Depressed?

When your dinner comes from a drive-thru, you might wind up with a not-so-happy meal. A new study in Public Health Nutrition has backed up earlier reports of a link between fast food and depression.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and University of Navarra in Spain, followed almost 9,000 participants for about six years. The more fast food, such as burgers and pizzas, the participants ate, the more likely they were to develop depression.

It’s not the first time scientists have found a link between depression and fast food. In 2011, researchers from the University of Maryland reported similar results in a study of midlife women. In that study, women with depressive symptoms ate burgers, fried chicken, or fried fish from fast food joints more often than women with no signs of depression.

Watch out for these telltale signs of depression.

Burger, Fries, and Depression

Scientists are still exploring how fast food and depression might be related. On one hand, depression may increase the odds of choosing the drive-thru. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to muster the motivation and energy to take good care of yourself.

On the other hand, a poor diet may increase the risk of becoming depressed. Many fast foods are high in trans fats—unhealthy fats that raise bad LDL cholesterol, lower good HDL cholesteroland increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. Trans fats promote inflammation, and growing evidence suggests that inflammation may play a role in causing depression.

Just as important as what people eat is what they don’t eat. Those with a diet that’s heavy on fast food may be missing out on the protective effects of healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and non-fried fish. Substances in these foods that may help protect against depression include antioxidants, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Check out our guide to cholesterol-free foods.

Living the Fast-Food Lifestyle

Finally, depression and fast food may also be linked through less healthy habits in general. Eating fast food often goes hand in hand with skipping exercise and working extra-long hours. A high-stress, low-exercise lifestyle may just add to the depression risk.

Ultimately, grabbing an assembly-line meal that has been sitting under a heat lamp seems depressing in more ways than one.

Add variety to your diet with your own gourmet garden.

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