The standard American diet (S.A.D.) is high in processed foods, fat (especially saturated and trans fats), refined grains, simple sugars, salt and calories. As I’ve said before, almost anything would be better.
You probably already know that the S.A.D. leads to obesity and a whole host of diseases – including heart disease, cancer and diabetes – just to name a few.
But did you know that the S.A.D. could make you sad?
That statement is based on a study by Akbaralay et al (British Journal of Psychiatry, 195: 408-413, 2009) in which they looked at the dietary patterns and mental health outcomes of 3486 participants in the Whitehall II Prospective Study.
In case you didn’t know it, Whitehall is the central district in London where most of the British government offices are located.
So the 3486 participants in this study were bureaucrats. They were middle aged (average age 55.6 years old) office staff (74% men, 26% women) who spent most of their day sitting and really didn’t like their jobs very much.
(I made up the part about not liking their jobs, but you get the picture.)
At the beginning of the study the participants were given a 127 item food frequency quiz to fill out.
Interestingly enough, the food preferences of the participants in this study clustered neatly into two groups.
The diets of the processed foods groups predominantly consisted of sweetened desserts, chocolates, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains and high fat dairy products.
In contrast, the diets of the whole foods group consisted mostly of vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains.
Five years later the study participants were analyzed for depression using a
20 item standardized depression scale.
The results were pretty eye-catching. The processed food group was 58% more likely to suffer from depression than the whole food group! And this was after correction for age, gender, weight, marital status, education, employment grade, physical activity, smoking and diseases (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke).
The reasons for this astounding correlation between diet and depression are not clear.
The authors speculated that the diets of the whole food group were likely higher in antioxidants, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids than the diets of the processed food group – and studies have suggested that each of these nutrients may protect against depression.
The authors also suggested that it might be an indirect effect. Diets that are high in saturated fats and refined grains and low in omega-3 fatty acids increase inflammation, and studies have suggested that inflammation can lead to depression.
The thing for you to remember is that, while we don’t know the exact mechanism, it is pretty clear that a processed food diet can lead to the blues down the road.
And, as the authors pointed out, the processed food diet in this study is pretty close to what most Americans are eating. So it is safe to say that the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) can make you sad!
So keep your spirits up with a healthy diet.
To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney
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