Can Food Affect Your Mood?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Food and Health, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Living

An Apple A Day Keeps The Blues Away

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Can food affect your mood? In rural North Carolina you still occasionally see bumper stickers that say “Life Happens”. Of course, the word they use isn’t exactly “Life”, but you get the point.

can food affect your moodWe can’t always control what happens to us. What is important is how we react when bad things happen to us. Do we brush them off and move on, or do we let them get us down? There is no shortage of experts telling us how we can keep the blues away. We are told to count our blessings, meditate, think happy thoughts, develop support groups – the list goes on and on.

But is there perhaps one important parameter that most of these experts are missing? Could the foods we eat make us blue?

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’s what two recent studies suggest.

Can Foods Affect Your Mood? Does Junk Food Make You Sad?

The first study by Akbaralay et al (British Journal of Psychiatry, 195: 408-413, 2009) 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. It is hard to imagine that kind of job would be deeply fulfilling, but I’m sure that some of the bureaucrats liked their jobs better than others – which is the whole point of this study.)

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 short the diet of this group was pretty similar to what we think of as the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). 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. Can food affect your mood? Does this give us more insight?

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.

Can Food Affect Your Mood? Does Healthy Food Make You Glad?

an apple for healthy fruitThe previous study suggested that junk food may make you sad. So you might be asking: “Does that mean that healthy foods can make you glad?” According to one recent study (Br J Health Psychol, Jan 24, 2013, doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12021) the answer may be yes.

A team from the University of Otago in New Zealand enrolled 281 young adults (average age = 20) in a study that looked at the effect of diet on their mood. Each day for 21 consecutive days they recorded their mood and what foods they ate using an online questionnaire. In particular, they reported the number of servings of fresh fruit and vegetables and of several unhealthy foods such as biscuits or cookies, potato chips or French fries and cakes or muffins.

The investigators correlated the foods eaten with the moods reported by the participants on the same day, and again on the day after those foods were eaten. Once again, the results were pretty impressive.

On the days when people ate more fruits and vegetables they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they did on other days (p = .002 – anything less than .05 is considered a statistically significant difference). And the good effects of fruit and vegetable consumption carried over to the next day as well (p < .001).

Can food affect your mood? While I paraphrased the “apple a day” quote to introduce this study, one apple won’t quite do it. According to this study it takes about 7-8 servings of fruits and vegetables to positively affect mood. In addition, it probably wasn’t just the fruits and vegetables that made the difference. Based on the previous study I would guess that the participants in the study may have eaten other healthy foods such as whole grains and fish on their good days.

Can Food Affect Your Mood?

Taken together these two studies suggest that the next time you feel a little blue you may want to look at your diet. You may want to include a healthier diet along with the meditation and positive thinking.

Of course, these studies both measured correlations between diet and mood, and any good scientist will tell you that correlations do not prove cause and effect. It could be that when people are “down in the dumps” they just naturally reach for junk foods rather than fruits and vegetables.

However, since there is no downside to consuming fruits and vegetables, I feel fully comfortable recommending more fruits and vegetables in our diets. If their health benefits aren’t enough to motivate you, maybe the possibility of improving your mood will!

There are some things you just can’t control. To paraphrase those country songs, you can’t keep your girl and dog from running off. Life happens to all of us. Can food affect your mood? If you want to keep your mood where it should be, you can always reach for those fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

 

The Bottom Line

  • Two recent studies have suggested what we eat can affect our mood.
  • The first study showed that people who habitually consumed a diet consisting of sweetened desserts, chocolates, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains and high fat dairy products were 58% more likely to suffer from depression than people who habitually consumed a diet consisting mostly of vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains.
  • The second study showed that the subjects in their study reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic on the days when they ate more fruits and vegetables than they did on the days they ate junk foods.
  • Of course, these studies both measured correlations between diet and mood, and any good scientist will tell you that correlations do not prove cause and effect. It could be that when people are “down in the dumps” they just naturally reach for junk foods rather than fruits and vegetables.
  • However, since there is no downside to consuming a healthier diet, I feel fully comfortable recommending more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and omega-3s in our diets. If their health benefits aren’t enough to motivate you, maybe the possibility of their improving your mood will!

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Best Diet For Heart Disease Prevention

Posted July 9, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are The American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

What is the best diet for heart disease prevention? 

diet for heart disease preventionHeart disease is a killer. It continues to be the leading cause of death – both worldwide and in industrialized countries like the United States and the European Union. When we look at heart disease trends, it is a good news – bad news situation.

  • The good news is that heart disease deaths are continuing to decline in adults over 70.
  • The decline among senior citizens is attributed to improved treatment of heart disease and more seniors following heart-healthy diets.
  • The bad news is that heart disease deaths are starting to increase in younger adults, something I reported in an earlier issue, Heart Attacks Increasing in Young Women of “Health Tips From the Professor.”
  • The reason for the rise in heart disease deaths in young people is less clear. However, the obesity epidemic, junk and convenience foods, and the popularity of fad diets all likely play a role.

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

Of course, we don’t eat fats, carbohydrates, or proteins. We eat foods. That is why a recent study (T Meier et al, European Journal of Epidemiology, 34: 37-45, 2019) is so important. It reported which foods increase and which decrease the risk of premature heart disease deaths.

How Was The Study Done?

diet for heart disease prevention studyThe authors of the current study analyzed data from the “Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) Study”, a major world-wide effort designed to estimate the portions of deaths caused by various risk factors.

The current study focused on the impact of 12 dietary risk factors on heart disease deaths between 1990 and 2016 for 51 countries in four regions (Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia).

The dietary risk factors were:

  • Diets low in fiber, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains.
  • Diets high in sodium, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fatty acids.

Saturated fat and meat were not explicitly included in the GBS Study data. However, diets low in polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are likely high in saturated fats. Similarly, diets low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are likely higher in meats. The study also did not include dairy, and some recent studies suggest that some dairy foods may decrease heart disease risk.

For simplicity I will only consider the findings from Western Europe because their diet and heart disease death trends are similar to those in the United States.

 

Best Diet for Heart Disease Prevention?

plant-based diet bestThe study found that in 2016 (the last year for which data were available):

  • Dietary risk factors were responsible for 49.2% of heart disease deaths.
  • 6% of all diet-related heart disease deaths occurred in adults younger than 70, and that percentage has been increasing in recent years.

When they looked at the contribution of individual foods to diet related heart disease deaths, the percentages were:

  • Diets low in whole grains = 20.4%
  • Diets low in nuts and seeds = 16.2%
  • Diets low in fruits = 12.5%
  • Diets high in sodium = 12.0%
  • Diets low in omega-3s = 10.8%
  • strong heartDiets low in vegetables = 9.0%
  • Diets low in legumes = 7.0%
  • Diets low in fiber = 5.7%
  • Diets low in polyunsaturated fats = 3.7%
  • Diets high in processed meats = 1.6%
  • Diets high in trans fatty acids = 0.8%
  • Diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages = 0.1%

So, what is the best diet for heart disease prevention?

In short, this study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat was not included in the analysis, but it is likely that most people’s diets in this region of the world contained some meat. The most likely take-away is that meat does not affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis either, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in Western Europe.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

Are the American Heart Association’s Recommendations Correct?

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

 

The Bottom Line

 

Everyone has a magic diet for reducing heart disease risk. The American Heart Association tells us to avoid fats, especially saturated fats. Vegans tell us to avoid animal protein. Paleo and keto enthusiasts tell us carbs are the problem. Who is correct?

A recent study provides some important clues. It looked at dietary patterns associated with reduced risk of premature death from heart disease in Western Europe. The study concluded:

  • A primarily plant-based diet is the best protection against premature death due to heart disease.
  • All plant-based food groups (whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes) play an important role in reducing heart disease deaths.
  • Meat did not appear to affect heart disease risk in the context of a primarily plant-based diet.
  • Dairy was not included in the analysis, but some studies suggest dairy, particularly fermented dairy foods, reduce heart disease risk.
  • Finally, the study concluded: “Compared to other…modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco smoking, obesity, etc.), an altered diet is the most effective means of preventing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease.”

While every study has its weaknesses, this study is consistent with multiple previous studies showing that primarily plant-based diets are best for reducing heart disease risk. You will find a more complete discussion of these studies in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

With this study’s results in mind we can now ask whether the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other popular diets are correct. Are they likely to reduce heart disease deaths?

  • The American Heart Association Recommends a dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, skinless poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy products. This study supports those recommendations.
  • This study also supports the heart-health benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
  • Meat and dairy were not explicitly considered in this study. Thus, the results of this study are also consistent with vegan and semi-vegetarian diets.
  • However, low carb diets like Paleo and keto eliminate some of the key food groups (whole grains, fruits, and legumes) that appear to be essential for reducing heart disease risk. 40% of the heart-health benefits in this study came from those 3 food groups. Thus, this study does not support claims that those two diets are heart-healthy long term.

For more details read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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