Is your high-fat diet making you depressed?
Don't believe the hype - A-list celebs may rely on high-fat diets to lose fat and stay full for longer, but studies have revealed that a diet high in fat can lead to depression. Not to mention all that fat is bad news for your heart and your arteries! It's all about the type of fat you choose though - diets loaded with saturated fat, found in red meat, fried food, fast food and dairy, are bad news. But what is saturated fat actually doing to your mood?
Science and saturated fat
Ever felt depressed after chowing down on donuts or blue after a bacon sandwich? It turns out there could be a good reason for that, backed up by science. A study published in Neuropsychoparmacology (1) looked at the effects of a diet high in saturated fat on rats. Rats who ate a diet packed with saturated fat for 8 weeks became less sensitive to dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter found in the brain, which can help to regulate mood. Low levels of dopamine have been linked to depression and overeating - in fact, anti-depressants work to regulate dopamine levels and help your mood to be more balanced.
When our dopamine levels are low, we don't derive as much pleasure from food as we would normally, which could lead to over-eating and often choosing the wrong, high-fat foods when we do so! Not all fats are bad though and it would be wrong to tar them all with the same brush. The study also revealed that rats who ate a diet packed with monounsaturated fats (found in avocados, olive oil, nuts and oily fish) didn't experience any effect on their dopamine levels.
Inflammation and weight gain
But it's not just depression that can be an unwanted side-effect of a high-fat diet. Another study (2) revealed that rats fed a high-fat diet saw changes to naturally-occurring gut bacteria. These changes led to inflammation in the gut and nerve cell damage - the signals sent from the gut to the brain were dampened, so that brain could not sense fullness properly. The result? Over-eating and weight gain. The culprit? Once again, the study showed that it was only saturated fat that caused this inflammation.
What can you do?
Before you blacklist saturated fat entirely, it's important to remember that the foods which contain saturated fat usually also contain other nutrients we need to stay healthy, such as calcium in dairy products. You can decrease the amount of saturated fat you're consuming and add more monounsaturated fats to your diet - try this and you may notice decreased levels of anxiety and even a mood boost.
Researchers from Ohio State University found that people who ate more fish oil, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, experienced a decrease in inflammation and noticeably less anxiety than those who consumed lower levels of omega-3. Eating more monounsaturated fats could even help to improve athletic performance and alter the ratio of good to bad fats in your diet - something we all need to do!
We're not saying you can't ever enjoy a pizza or a steak again, but lowering the levels of saturated fat in your diet and replacing them with healthy, monounsaturated fats is a great way to boost your mood and reduce your risk of depression.
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