Fast Food Diet Linked to Depression in Teens

BURGER MEALAccording to new research, diets consisting of lots of fast food and few fruits and vegetables, may be linked to severe symptoms of depression in teens. It was found that teens with higher sodium levels and lower potassium were likely to report frequent symptoms of depression. This was after adjusting for age, baseline depression levels and BMI[body mass index].

Sodium seemed to have a cumulative effect on mood over time. Depressed teens with high sodium intake weren’t depressed at the beginning of the study.

What this suggests is that high salt intake and low potassium rich foods in the teenage diet could be harmful to mental health over time. Eating fruits, vegetables and other whole foods might help mitigate depression symptoms.

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The study suggests that there is merit to the growing evidence that food can influence mental health. Confirming what we know already, processed foods are bad for the brain and for mental health.

Teen girls appear to be most vulnerable to the impact of diet on their mental health, and tend to be more at risk for depression overall. Around age 13 to 15, girls start to experience more depressive symptoms compared to boys and that difference continues through adulthood.

Researchers have a few theories on how sodium and potassium levels impact the brain. It might influence the production of neurotransmitters, such as the stress hormone cortisol. It could also interact with the gut microbiome, the colony of healthy bacteria that live in our stomach and are linked to a growing number of health factors, from improving sleep to curing cancer.

Teenagers are certainly more vulnerable than adults to side effects of a poor diet, since their brains are still developing. This also informs us that shifting to healthier eating habits in youth could lead to better mental health over time.

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The best thing that parents can do for optimizing mental health among teens is to encourage healthier diets and eating habits. Beginning early in life, when children’s food tastes and preferences are being formed, provide lots of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

When teens eat a range of healthy foods from the five food groups, they get the nutrition they need for health, growth and development in adolescence. Help teens make healthy food choices. What we eat matters and a poor diet consisting of junk and processed foods makes us more susceptible to mental health problems.

Diet is perhaps the most powerful intervention we have in the nutrition connection to teen anxiety and depression. For teens, as your body is still growing, it’s crucial that you eat enough good quality food and the right kinds to meet your nutrition and energy needs. Being a teen is probably rated among the top best times of your life. But, it can also be very difficult as you try to define yourself amidst the body shape changes you experience.


As a teenager, you’ll become more independent and make your own food choices. To feel good and be healthy, you need to get enough vitamins and minerals from your diet. Skipping meals is not good. You lose out on the important nutrients needed for the high levels of energy you need to fuel your body. You may find it hard to concentrate on schoolwork, also.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, say a healthy, balanced diet should include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy
  • lean protein
  • limited amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar.

For now, the  best way to help avoid depressive symptoms is to use nutrition to support your physical and mental health. Focus on your dietary patterns overall. Eat well. Food and mood are connected, and nutritional psychiatry seeks to hone in on dietary patterns and the connection to overall mental health.

Although research is in early stages, it is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain, associated with a lack of nutrients. More recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

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Teens and their parents need to be mindful of diet and eating habits. For optimal mental health and reduction in depression symptoms, teens’ lifestyles should support their academic, emotional, physical, and social well-being. A consistent evidence base confirms that the quality of individuals’ diets is related to their risk for common mental health disorders, such as depression.

Minimize visits to McDonald’s, Wendy’s[my favorite] and most other fast food ‘joints’. Remember that+ just because it may be good to you, doesn’t make it good for you. That includes your mental health. Eat healthy, be healthy, and stay healthy! Limit fast food intake. It might make you depressed.


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