Have you heard that catchy Arby’s commercial? I can almost hear the jingle, “It’s good mood food.” Unfortunately their marketing campaign couldn’t be further from the truth. A newly released study has found a link between fast food and depression. According to the study’s findings, depression is 51 percent more likely to occur in people who consume large amounts of fast food, including hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza.
So is fast food causing depression, or are those with depression craving the comfort of fast food? Both sides of the argument have their theories and personally I believe it to be both. What’s even more important, however, is truly understanding what it is about fast food that alters mood and deteriorates our health in so many other ways.
Let’s look at what might be considered the “typical” fast food meal (although I’m sure you would agree that this is a very modest example):
The sandwich: First we have the meat, which in the case of a hamburger is super-processed and filled with sodium; so filled with sodium in fact that it will not decompose. Those stories about fast food burgers remaining fresh looking for years is the stuff of legends. Sad thing is it’s not a legend at all; it’s actually true.
As a matter of fact, the bun doesn’t mold either. Typically bread will begin to grow mold in a matter of days on the shelf, so you have to wonder what’s in the typical fast food bun that would retard the growth of mold for…forever?! Here’s the ingredient list for a McDonald’s hamburger bun; you tell me…
Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, wheat gluten, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, soy flour), calcium propionate and sodium propionate (preservatives), soy lecithin.
The fries: Before you give yourself points for including a vegetable in your meal, you must understand that potatoes are a starchy, and thus high-sugar, veggie. And if that’s all that was in the standard fast food fry, that would be bad enough. Nope, lots of added ingredients in those, too. Finish them off in a vat of hot oil (and not the healthy kind) and you’ve got a health disaster.
The drink: With all the sodium in the typical fast food meal, it’s no wonder you get thirsty. Many super-size their drink selection, opting for the largest size that contains nearly 30 teaspoons of sugar, more sodium for good measure, and plenty of artificial flavors and dyes. Ordering a diet soda doesn’t get you off the hook. Artificial sweeteners, like Aspartame, are directly linked to anxiety, depression, and even brain cancers.
There are a number of factors at work here that can lead to mood issues and depression. First, fast food is empty calories. I don’t think anyone would argue that there aren’t many essential nutrients in these meals. A lack of certain vitamins, minerals and healthy fats will affect your mood and alter brain chemistry.
Next are the food intolerances. You don’t have to have a full-fledged wheat or gluten allergy to be sensitive to these foods and wheat is found in fast food buns, meats, and yes, even the fries (McDonald’s included). Intolerances and allergies cause a chemical chain reaction within the body, affecting the immune system and leading to further brain and mood problems.
Then there are the sweeteners, food dyes, preservatives, flavor enhancers, flavorings and colorings in the sodas and condiments, many of which are also linked to various mood, brain and body function disorders.
It doesn’t take a scientific research study to find the link between depression and fast and processed foods; once you truly understand the body’s reaction to them, that is. The bottom line: Happy Meals are a lot of things, least of which are happy or healthy.