Fast Food Really Can Cause Mental Distress, Study Says

The answer to easing anxiety and depression could be as simple as changing your diet. Research published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience revealed that for adults under 30, eating lots of fast food significantly increased perceived mental distress.

The study investigated the effects of different dietary patterns on mental health. The results varied wildly for different age groups, with older adults exhibiting less of a response to fast food and more of a response to antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. For this group, eating more fruits and fewer carbohydrates from other sources reduced anxiety and depression.

The beneficial effect of fruit consumption made sense to researchers, since fruits are high in antioxidants that protect the brain. However, they were puzzled by the negative correlation of carbohydrates from other sources. They thought carbohydrates would relieve mental distress rather than exacerbate it, since carbohydrates promote the release of serotonin, the "happy hormone," in the brain.

The negative effect of fast food consumption also made sense to the group. Young adults who ate fast food more than three times a week scored higher on levels of mental distress. Fast food is typically high in saturated fats, trans fats, and omega-6 fatty acids. While in smaller doses, some of these fats are beneficial and, in fact, necessary for brain function, an excess can trigger an inflammatory response. The inflammation has links to anxiety and depression from past research.

The results seem to indicate that there is a switch in the way foods affect your body as you age — that once you reach a certain point, the antioxidants in fruit are more important and avoiding excess fats is less crucial. These results also suggest that previous studies analyzing the effects of foods across all age groups should be reexamined. The varying effects across age groups could make an impact on the data.

It's not all bad news for young people, though — there are ways to mitigate anxiety and depression by adding foods, not just by leaving them out. These 10 foods, for example, might help reduce anxiety and depression.