Is your diet causing depression?

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Today’s Health Upgrade

  • The burger test

  • Is this food causing depression?

  • Spotlight on melatonin

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The Burger Test

When you think about the best-tasting burger, you probably don’t imagine one made of plants. But a recent taste test of four different types of burgers found that plant-based burgers were more enjoyable than a traditional burger.

The researchers compared a 100% meat burger, a plant-based meat-like burger (using soy proteins), a pea protein-based burger, and a burger that combined meat and mushrooms. No condiments were used on any burgers. Surprisingly, even when the participants did a blind taste test, the plant-based version came out on top.

Do plants make better burgers than cows? Possibly, but on closer examination, the real story might be how well the food industry can engineer and manipulate what we eat. The burgers were not created equally because the most enjoyable plant-based burger had five times as much sodium as the 100% meat burger.

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that salt enhances the palatability, taste, flavor, and preference of food. Researchers have coined this as the “bliss point,” which represents the perfect amount of salt and fat to make food extra desirable.

To be clear, the study was not about the healthiness of different plant-based meats. But, if you enjoy plant-based meats, don’t eat red meat for dietary reasons, or ever thought of giving them a try, this study was reason to believe you’ll likely enjoy the taste more than you might think.

The Food Linked To Depression (And What To Do About It)

Many of us dream of finding ways to eat the foods we love and still be healthy. But the current nightmare is that some of the most popular foods are linked to health concerns.

Recent research found that the more you eat ultra-processed foods, the more likely you are to report feelings of depression or anxiety.

If you’re not aware, ultra-processing is a broad category that includes foods that are engineered to make them more desirable by adding salt, sugar, and fat. They consist of ingredients like hydrogenated oils, chemical additives, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, and preservatives. In other words, it’s more than 60 percent of the food found in grocery stores.

A more recent study of 11,000 people found that those who consumed more than 20 percent of their calories from ultra-processed food experienced an additional 28 percent decline in cognition.

But don’t worry. You know we’re here to keep you more informed and provide a positive perspective. For starters, you can’t assume causation from these studies, so other factors could be at play. And it’s possible that people who are more anxious or depressed happen to eat more ultra-processed foods.

More importantly, you can outsmart these foods to reduce or completely remove the likelihood of downsides.

Researchers found that people who ate ultra-processed foods but also had a balance of healthy foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and other nutritious options showed no link with anxiety and cognitive decline. If you need help figuring out a simpler, balanced approach to nutrition, you'll love Adam’s new book, You Can’t Screw This Up. It outlines how to manage ultra-processed foods in a practical way, so you can still eat some of the foods you love without the added stress.

Spotlight: What is melatonin?

Melatonin has exploded over the last 5 years and is now a billion-dollar industry, but it doesn’t work the way most people think. Your body produces melatonin throughout the day, and peaks at night. When your brain senses darkness, your pineal gland produces more melatonin and signals that it’s time for you to sleep.

In other words, melatonin helps you manage your sleep-wake cycle. If you produce too much melatonin — as can happen during the winter with fewer daylight hours — it can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

While research doesn’t suggest melatonin is dangerous, it’s still a hormone, and there are many questions about its effectiveness and safety.

Melatonin is not addictive, but it’s also not free of side effects. When you have too much melatonin, it can lead to grogginess, nausea, headaches, fatigue, confusion, nightmares, and low blood pressure. And if you take other medications, be sure to check with your doctor because it has many potential interactions.

Melatonin is likely most effective if you’re a shift worker or fighting jet lag to help reset your sleep-wake cycle. But it’s not the best approach for restlessness or insomnia. Instead, you’ll benefit more from naturally resetting your circadian rhythm by getting sunlight into your eyes in the morning and limiting light and screen time at night (Remember, your body produces more melatonin when it senses that it’s nighttime, so fewer things that bring light into your eyes will help you sleep).

If you do choose to use melatonin, make sure you look for products that have third-party verification, such as NSF, Informed Sport, or USP. A recent study found that 88 percent of melatonin gummies were mislabeled — some had less, many had much more, and one had no melatonin and instead was filled with CBD.