Diets high in saturated fat contribute to anxiety and depression, new research finds

Ever wondered why you feel anxious and depressed, even on a day that’s sunny and bright?

Chances are, you ate something bad for your health. Your breakfast may have contained no-nos like excess saturated fat from fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, beef fat (tallow), lard and cream, butter, cheese and other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat milk. You may have also gorged on baked gods and fried food.

A new study on adult mice shows that excess intake of saturated fat (along with too much sugar) leads to depressive behavior.

The mice were fed a high-fat/high-sucrose diet (HFD), along with either saturated or monounsaturated fat, or a control low-fat diet. Researchers assessed their behavior after 12 weeks.

Results showed a direct link between obesity and hyperleptinemia, or the presence of excess leptins — a hunger hormone — in the bloodstream. A high-fat/high-sucrose diet worsens matters by facilitating anxiety, despair, excess insulin, glucose intolerance, inflammation and other health conditions.

While saturated fats seem to open a Pandora’s Box of illnesses, the same study showed that a Mediterranean diet brings untold benefits. Mediterranean diet believers — or those who take in a lot of monounsaturated fat (found in nuts, avocado, canola oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, butter and sesame oil) have fewer mood swings, and are less prone to inflammation that leads to disease.

Another study, this time at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) and published in the journal Molecular Metabolism, supports this.

Stéphanie Fulton, a CRCHUM researcher and professor at Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Medicine found that “depressive, anxious and compulsive behaviours and metabolic changes” seen in sugar-rich, saturated fat-full food, were absent in mice fed with a diet rich in sugar and monounsaturated fat, or the kind present in olive oil.

Léa Décarie-Spain, the study’s first author and a doctoral student in Fulton, observed that mice fed a diet rich in saturated fat consumed more food, and therefore took in more calories. Naturally, they gained weight and showed signs of anxiety and metabolic problems linked to pre-diabetes.

This study doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Another study, this time on humans, shows that a Mediterranean diet low in saturated fat shields its subjects from depression. (Related: Mediterranean Diet found to slash risk of dementia by 35 percent.)

Science explains it this way:

Saturated fat and sugar create inflammation in the nucleus accumbens, that part of the brain that dictates mood and a rewarding feeling. This, in turn, leads to depression, anxiety and compulsive behavior. It also disturb metabolism.

Of course, obesity and depression trigger a chain of negative effects on physical and mental health. Obesity brings a string of problems, from passing pain to deadly coronary and hypertensive ailments. Anxiety and depression are just as bad. It can lead to something as temporary as mood swings, to be as dangerous as suicide.

Either way, these maim the body and/or the mind. The good news is they can be prevented with a diet free from excess saturated fat.

So the next time you reach out for a second helping of desert, check yourself. It may taste good but it will ruin your mood, and your entire day. Worse, bad vibes can be a virus that infect people you come in close contact with throughout the day.

Besides, it pays to be fit and feel good all the time. Who wants to start the day scowling or wearing a long face, anyway?

So stick to a healthy diet, free from all that rich, sinful food.

You’ll find it easier to smile, walk with a spring in your step, and help others feel the same way too.

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