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|Teens, diet and Depression|
|ABOUT three-quarters of psychiatric disorders first appear before the age of 25. The most common disorder is depression. There are a range of factors that increase a teenagers’ risk of depression. They often lack the resilience and coping skills needed to deal with tough situations life throws at them like grief, bullying, struggling at work or school, or family upheavals, violence, drugs and HIV/Aids. Teenagers whose parents have depression are also at greater risk of the illness. |
But recent research by Dr Felice Jacka, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences has also linked a high junk food diet to an increased risk of depression. “Teen years are a vulnerable period and a lot of different factors feed into teenage depression,” explains Jacka.
Jacka’s research looked at possible links between the diet of 71,114 adolescents, aged between 10 and 14, and their risk of depression. She found that eating a diet rich in foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, crisps, biscuits, doughnuts, cakes, chocolate, soft drinks and flavoured milks increased the likelihood of adolescents suffering depression by almost 80 percent, compared to children who ate a healthy diet.
Adolescents who were in the highest category for junk and processed food intake also fell into the highest risk category for depression. Those who ate breakfast and nutrient-dense-foods – that is, at least four servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit and a serving of low-fat diary food daily – had the lowest risk of developing depression.
Why Healthy Food Is Important For Mental Health
When you don’t eat enough good foods and your diet largely consists of processed foods, you can be nutrient deficient. This, in turn, impacts on the functioning of your immune system and potentially on the way your body and brain develops, explains Jacka.
“We also think there is a direct detrimental impact of high-fat and high-sugar foods on important brain proteins – such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which protects against depression.
“High levels of saturated fat also appear to activate our stress response system, which is involved in depression,” says Jacka.
On the other hand, there is plenty of research to show that foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, fish, lean meat and chicken can support mental health, says Dr Nicole Highet, deputy chief executive of beyondblue, an organisation which deals with depression in Australia. “Vegetables, fruits and cereals provide many vitamins that are important for physical development and growth and for brain development,” she says. “Oils in fish like salmon and tuna have positive effects on the brain and reduce the incidence of depression as well.
Good-quality fuel from bread, rice and pasta helps us concentrate and provides sustained energy, whereas sugar snacks provide short term energy bursts and then lows – like a car jump starting.
“Eating breakfast is also paramount because it ensures the brain is working at its best from the start of the day.”
Body Image Blues
A diet high in processed and takeaway foods can also lead to weight and body image issues, which can in turn contribute to teen depression. Teasing and a lack of confidence due to being overweight can make life a lot harder for teenagers already struggling to find their place in their world. Teenagers can also place an unhealthy emphasis on good looks, with good looks usually meaning being slim.
“The secondary effects of bad diet, such as being overweight or having acne impact on self esteem,” explains Highet. “And if young people are not feeling healthy, they are less likely to engage in exercise, which is important for energy release, the release of stress and tension, and the release of endorphins in the brain that increase positive mood.”
Helping kids to eat the right things
1.Don’t’ keep high fat, high salt and high sugar snacks in the house
2.Try and eat dinner together as often as possible, so you can be sure that your teenager is eating at least one healthy meal a day. Fill up with plenty of vegetables and a portion of lean protein, and finish off with a piece of fruit
3.Keep a supply of healthy snacks in individual portion sizes handy in the pantry so teens can easily grab them when they feel hungry of when they’re busy doing homework. These can include a handful of nuts or dried fruit, a low-fat yoghurt, pit bread with a low fat dip, a slice of raisin toast or a crumpet with honey, jam or ricotta cheese, and a fruit smoothie with low-fat yoghurt and milk and blended fresh fruit.
4.Give your teen a lunch prepared at home containing fruit, lean protein, vegetables make into a salad, for instance, and wholegrain bread or low fat crackers or crisp breads. They can also take a snack such as low-fat yoghurt or some cheese and crackers. This may help them avoid buying takeaways at the tuck shop.
5.Encourage your teen to eat breakfast every day. It sets up better eating habits throughout the day and kick starts brain function, says Highet
6.If your teen snacks a lot and their school bag and desk drawers are full of wrappers, it’s likely they’re not getting the food they need during the day. Teens should eat three quality meals and two quality snacks daily.
What Foods To Eat For Brain Health
So what are the key foods that teenagers need for good physical and brain health, and to perhaps reduce the risk or impact of depression?
Protein, found in lean red meat, chicken, fish, pork, legumes and nuts helps the growth and repair the lean muscles and tissue in the body. “It should make up about 20 to 30 percent of a teen’s daily diet,” says Dietitians Association Of Australia spokesperson Julie Gilbert. High protein foods are made up of amino acids that repair and build cells. Tryptophan is an amino acid used by the brain to produce serotonin, one of the brain’s feel good chemicals.
Carbohydrates. High fiber, low-fat carbs found in fruit, pasta, rise, rolled oats and low fat crackers and crisp breads provide good quality energy, says Gilbert. “About 60 percent of a teenager’s diet should come from these kinds of carbs every day. They are still growing and need more energy in their diet,” she says.
Omega-3 fatty Acids. There is good evidence that omega-3s support brain function. They can be found in salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Aim for at least two servings of oily fish each week.
Calcium. Teenagers need about three servings of low-fat dairy each day to strengthen their bones, which are still developing. Choose products such as low-fat cheese, yoghurt and milk. Milk is also a good source of tryptophan and it can help teenagers get to sleep. Avoid or reduce full-fat dairy products.
Water. Dehydration can affect mood and concentration, trigger headaches and leave teenagers feeling irritated and restless, says beyondblue. Teens should aim to drink eight glasses of water a day and cut back on soft drinks, flavoured milks and mineral waters.
Assorted Vitamins & Minerals. A range of vitamins and minerals are important for physical and mental health, and eating five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily will provide most of these, says Gilbert. “They provide the vitamins and minerals we need to release energy from carbohydrates and they are high in antioxidants, which help protect against heart disease and cancer,” she says. “Leafy green vegetables contain folate, which has been shown to improve the effect of antidepressant medication. And bolstering your fruit and vegetable intake can also help control your weight,” says Gilbert.