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Feeling Depressed? Junk Food Won't Ease Your Sorrow

Eating too much junk food may put you at a much higher risk for depression according to a study published in the November, 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers from University College, London performed an in depth psychiatric, dietary and lifestyle analysis of 3,486 participants with an average age of 55.

Based on a dietary questionnaire, the researchers divided the participants into two groups. The first group was called "whole foods" and represented diets high in vegetables, fruits and fish. The second group, called "processed foods," included individuals with diets high in sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products.

After five years of follow-up the participants completed a self assessment for depression, which diagnoses depression based on a scale developed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies.

The researchers found that people who ate the most processed foods were nearly 60% more likely to develop depression than those who ate the least.

This association remained constant even after they adjusted for confounding variables including smoking, body mass and level of physical activity.

Many people argue that eating junk food is a result and not a cause of depression, however, the researchers found no such association.

The researchers presented a number of viable hypotheses to explain their findings.

They observed a higher consumption of folate and omega-3 fatty acids among the whole foods group. Previous studies have suggested these nutrients may affect brain chemistry.

They also noted that whole foods are higher in antioxidants, which may play a role in regulating depression. By contrast, processed foods have been linked to heart disease and inflammation, which some research has suggested could be linked to depression.

More research will help determine whether one or two nutrients in the diet are responsible for this link, or whether it is due to the cumulative effect of an overall healthy diet. Regardless of the mechanisms, it is important to understand the fact that what we eat can affect not only our figure but also our mood.

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