By Jessica DeCostole, RDN, for KnowMoreTV
Need yet another reason to hold true to your New Year's resolution about vowing to eat better? According to a recent study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, certain foods in your diet can actually make you feel depressed.
Researchers followed more than 40,000 women, ages 50-77, for 12 years and found that those who ate foods such as red meat, soda, and refined grains, like pasta, white bread, and bagels were up to 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who consumed more wine, coffee, and leafy greens.
To account for the fact that people may eat more of the not-so-healthy comfort foods when they are feeling blue, the study only included women who had no prior history with depression.
And while there's more research that needs to be done to pinpoint a clear connection, for now scientists speculate that the pro-inflammatory nature of these foods are what's triggering depressive symptoms. The women whose diets were higher in these foods had elevated levels of known inflammatory markers: C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor α receptor 2.
Previous studies have already linked high levels of these markers to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer, so it's not far fetched to imagine that chronic inflammation might have mental health effects, too.
Aside from going for a blood test to see if your inflammatory markers are on the high side, the simplest way to tell if you might have inflammation is to measure your waist. For women, circumference above 35 inches (for men, it's 40 inches) means you could be at risk for a variety of diseases linked to chronic inflammation, even if your weight is normal. This is because visceral fat (the type that gathers around the belly) behaves differently that fat in other areas, and releases hormones and cytokines that are involved in the inflammation response.
The best way to ward off inflammation, belly fat, and possibly keep depression at bay? Eat a Mediterranean-style diet that consists of whole grains, olive oil, lots of fish and veggies, like carrots and sweet potatoes. And if you're feeling sad or anxious, try any form of physical activity, since it has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.
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Jessica DeCostole is a freelance health and nutrition writer and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who contributes regularly to KnowMore.tv. Her articles have also appeared in Redbook, Prevention, and WeightWatchers.com. A Brooklyn native, she recently relocated to Baltimore, MD to complete her dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center.