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America’s love of junk food and fast food and the high incidence of mental illness compared to other countries may be more than coincidence. America’s 26% of the population currently diagnosed with mental illness is in stark contrast to the worldwide prevalence of 4.3%. This could, in part, be attributed to a difference in diagnostic criteria but could also be due to a lack of nutrients in processed food compared to diets richer in less processed foods in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, this American trend is now creeping into other developed countries and affecting their populations in the same negative ways.



For instance, researchers in Britain followed 3,000 middle-aged office workers over a period of 5 years monitoring their diets and reported levels of depression. Those who ate a diet high in junk food including processed meat, chocolate, sweet desserts, fried food, refined cereals, and high-fat dairy products were more likely to report depression. Those who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish were less likely to report being depressed. In a larger European study of over 12,000 volunteers whose diets and lifestyles were followed for 6 years, researchers found that participants whose diets were high in trans-fats (present in commercially baked goods and fast-food) were 48% more likely to develop depression than those who did not consume trans-fats. Additionally, participants who consumed most of their fats in the form of fish and olive oil had a lower risk of suffering depression. Where there are trans-fats there is often sugar and a study conducted in 6 countries established a highly significant correlation between sugar consumption and the prevalence of depression. While we are still uncertain what the relationship is, there is reason to suspect that a high intake of sugar may interfere with the balance, production or reception of neurotransmitters.

Similarly, researchers at the University of Melbourne examined over 1000 randomly selected women, ages 20-93, assessing for symptoms of depression and anxiety and comparing “traditional” diets to “western” diets. They found that the women who ate a “traditional” diet of vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains had less depression and anxiety than those who ate a “western” diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer. A 2009 study by the University of Navarra also showed that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains and low in red meat and dairy was associated with a lower risk of depression.

Another large study of 2579 college students over 7 cities in China found that the intake level of fresh fruit, ready-to-eat food and fast food was significantly associated with depression. Those who consumed more junk food were much more likely to be depressed than those who ate more fresh fruit.

The Hordaland Health study looked at the association between diet quality and depression and anxiety in 5731 Norwegian adults. A traditional Norwegian diet composed of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains was associated with reduced depression and anxiety in women and men and a western-type diet with a higher intake of processed and unhealthy foods was associated with increased depression and anxiety in both women and men.


Junk food may be a more serious problem for children, especially adolescents, due to its ready availability and cultural acceptance. Junk food as the “norm” for kids in the western world is expanding into other parts of the world. The dietary patterns of junior high school students in China compared diets high in “snack food”, “animal food”, and “traditional diets” to the incidence of depression and anxiety. Diets high in snacks and animal food had a higher incidence of depression and anxiety than traditional diets. The Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study examined 7114 adolescents for healthy and unhealthy diets and incidence of depression. “Our results demonstrate an association between diet quality and adolescent depression that exists over and above the influence of socioeconomic, family, and other potentially confounding factors.” In other words, teenagers with poor diets are more likely to be depressed no matter if they are rich or poor, what kind of family they have, or where they live.


Researchers at the University of South Carolina did a cross-sectional analysis of diet quality in individuals with a history of attempted suicide. Dietary information was collected from 6803 adults, aged 17 to 39 years. What they found was that men who attempted suicide had a low consumption of vegetables. Women attempters had insufficient fruit consumption. In both men and women, attempters ate less meat than non-attempters. Female attempters ate significantly less fish and seafood than non-attempters. “The data suggest that fruits, vegetables and meat were significantly under-consumed in adults who had ever attempted suicide. In clinical practice, psychiatrists should pay more attention to what patients eat.”


The “Western Diet” may have originated here but its tentacles of death, disease, obesity and mental illness are fast spreading throughout the world. The seduction of processed food and fast-food is sweeping across the planet from industrialized nations to previously secluded tropical paradises. As populations forego the traditional, wholesome diets that have kept their rates of physical and mental illness far below those of the western world, we can expect to see that change. As rates of diseases and disorders grow, more and more money will be pumped into pharmaceuticals in the hopes of curing what nutritional imbalance created in the first place. The kind of nutritional imbalance that predictably occurs when we stop eating whole, natural, real food and substitute it with packaged, artificial food that is nutritionally deficient and full of sugar, trans-fat, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and other substances that are toxic to our bodies. There is already a cure for all of that. Let’s leave the junk food in the junkyard where it belongs and get back to eating the way we were meant to!


  1. Dena says:

    I do believe that for mental health intake assessments in clinical practice settings, it should be standard to ask detailed information about a persons dietary practices.

    It was nice to see alternative trick-or-treat goodies in the candy aisle at the grocery store this week. Not much, but available nonetheless. I usually give out Halloween pencils, rings, etc. instead of candy.

    Thanks again for this blog site! I’ve forwarded it to several colleagues.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Dena,

    I was hoping this post would be timely with Halloween coming up! Most people just haven’t made the connections yet between eating junk food and feeling depressed and anxious. Unfortunately, we have a “take a pill” mentality in the US, which is trying to correct the problem after the fact. In many cases, we could stop the problem from occurring in the first place simply with a good diet!.

    I’m glad you are enjoying the blog! I hope to help educate people about getting back to healthier ways of eating – for mental health’s sake!


  3. Hi to every one, the contents existing at this site are in fact
    amazing for people knowledge, well, keep up
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  4. Your post is so informative. Keep sharing such post with us.


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