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Research has shown that one in four adults will deal with some sort of prolonged anxiety in his or her lifetime. With up to a quarter of the population affected, it only makes sense that further research focuses on lifestyle changes that may help lower risk. Recently, researchers have linked diet and anxiety. This means that simply changing the way you eat can reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
In today’s busy world, more and more people are reliant on fast food, takeout, and pizza delivery. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying these as a treat now and again, it seems that people have started to rely on these sources for most of their nutrition. The problem with this is that these foods rarely provide adequate nutrition, and they’re laden with unhealthy fats, simple carbohydrates, excessive salt, tons of sugar, and thousands of empty calories.
For example, research has shown that the overconsumption of omega 3 fatty acids may cause depression and anxiety. Omega 3 fatty acids must be balanced with omega 6 fatty acids to provide the body with the best possible benefit, and most fast foods contain very few or no omega 6 fatty acids. As an example, an order of fast food fries contains a ratio of 16:1, which can create serious mental health issues – one of the major links between diet and anxiety.
A review article published in Clinical Pediatrics looked at a variety of studies conducted on the effects of things like preservatives and artificial coloring, both of which are quite common in fast food. While sugar has never been clinically proven to cause hyperactivity – which may come as a surprise – a very common preservative known as sodium benzoate certainly has. Consuming fast foods laden with these preservatives and colorings can greatly increase hyperactivity, which causes anxiety itself.
Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and this is yet another reason to examine the links between diet and anxiety. Numerous studies have proven that eating an unhealthy diet can lead to clinical depression over time. A study that looked at the diets of some 12,000 people for about six years found that the consumption of trans fats was directly correlated with depression. The more trans fats someone consumed, and the more often that person consumed them, the more depressed he or she was likely to feel. Simple carbohydrates when consumed in excess regularly had much the same effect.
Depression itself is a cause of anxiety, as well. Feeling unmotivated and unable to perform – or unable to live up to expectations of others – creates a feeling of dread, which leads to anxiety. As such, it can be said that a diet rich in trans fats will often lead to clinical anxiety.
While it may be difficult to find the right pharmaceutical solution for anxiety, the good news is that it’s easy to make simple lifestyle changes to break the bond between diet and anxiety. For example, those who get takeout or who order fast food regularly should avoid this, and instead prepare more meals at home. When ordering out is inevitable due to time constraints, it’s vital to make healthier, lower-fat choices that are free from artificial colors and preservatives.
Bear in mind that fast food restaurants will go to great lengths to call their offerings “healthy”, and regulations from the FDA and other government agencies have loopholes that allow this. For example, just because something is labeled as “low-fat”, this does not mean it is low in calories, free from refined sugars, or low in simple carbohydrates. Learn more about the options available to you when you order out, and do your best to make healthy choices. You can find some great food options, some of which can be made in no time at all in our healthy recipe section.
Fast food isn’t the enemy, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it occasionally when you’re busy, tired, or just craving something different. When you consume fast food regularly, though, the link between diet and anxiety becomes palpable. Make the right choices, and you’ll improve not only your physical health, but your mental health, as well.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like our write up on the connections between gut bacteria and mood.