Ah, summertime in America. Swimming pools, fireworks, hot dogs, lemonade, french fries, burgers, soft-serve ice cream, potato chips, beer — pure bliss, right?
Not so much.
The S.A.D Truth
A growing body of nutritional research shows that the sugary-salty processed foods and animal products that characterize the Western pattern diet (also known as the Standard American Diet or S.A.D. – an accurate acronym) promotes depression in addition to the physical ailments of heart disease, diabetes and obesity (a nasty trio that together create the deadly affliction of metabolic syndrome).
In our mile-a-minute world of working hard and playing hard, it’s so easy to give in to the temptation to rely on the culturally-encouraged diet of “sweets and meat” to give us hits of pleasure and relaxing satisfaction. Not only is it incredibly easy to over-eat these types of foods, thereby creating a major surplus of calories, it’s also increasingly evident that this kind of diet can lead to food addiction.
A study in Psychiatry separated over three thousand middle-aged subjects into two groups based on dietary patterns. The “whole” foods group ate unprocessed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and moderate amounts of animal products. The “processed” foods group ate high-fat dairy products, fried snacks, sugary desserts, cured and smoked meats, and refined grains. The researchers in the study followed-up with their groups of subjects 5 years later. They found that those subjects who ate the highest amount of processed foods had the highest likelihood of depression: they were 60% more likely to be depressed than those who ate mostly whole foods.
That’s pretty bad news. But all is not lost! It doesn’t take long to reverse the miserable mood effects of the S.A.D. diet.
The Good News
A new study published in the Nutrition Journal shows that dropping animal products in favor of plant-based foods helps improve mood in just two weeks!
The study involved 39 omnivores. Each subject was randomly assigned to one of three groups. Group #1 ate red meat, fish and poultry daily, Group #2 consumed fish 3-4 times a week but avoided red meat and poultry, and Group #3 consumed a vegetarian diet with absolutely no red meat, fish or poultry. At the start of the study scientists had subjects complete a Food Frequency questionnaire, a Profile of Mood States questionnaire and a Depression Anxiety and Stress scale. After two weeks of making their assigned eating changes, subjects were again asked to complete the questionnaires and scales. At the conclusion of the study, those in the first two groups (those eating animal products daily and those eating fish a few times a week) showed the same scores for mood. Significantly, Group #3, which had transitioned to a vegetarian diet, showed dramatic improvements in mood, with lowered symptoms of anxiety and stress. Scientists considered the study results surprising because eating fish is known to increase the presence of fatty acids in the brain that are associated with improved moods. The researchers theorized that the vegetarian group experienced better results because their plant-based diets provided a greater amount of anti-oxidants which combatted oxidative stress in their brains.
In short, don’t go for the quick pleasure that comes from an ice cream cone or juicy hot dog this summer. You’ll get a long-lasting mood boost and keep the blues at bay if you make smarter choices. When you’re relaxing in the sun go for luscious frozen fruit bars with no-added sugar, black bean veggie burgers on whole wheat buns, refreshing salads of leafy greens and veggies dressed with flavored vinegar, and lots of pure water. Your mood and your waistline will be way happier!