When you are hungry and you rush into the supermarket to buy something for supper, the processed foods look like the perfect, quick answer to a busy schedule. Grabbing a 'ready meal' can seem the utopia for any of us whose lives don't accommodate the pleasure of cooking at home. My friend Fiona sums it up with her comment, `If I can't get it from my local supermarket and cook it in five minutes, I'm not interested!' However, these types of foods have a knock-on effect and can leave us feeling emotionally drained and debilitated.
Depression is not an isolated state of emotional misery. When we become depressed we can also feel stressed and fatigued. The three are inextricably linked. If we are depressed we may go for the type of food that will give us `comfort', like alcohol, caffeine, cakes and biscuits, chocolate or a fat-filled treat like pizza or chips.
These foods will give us a shot of mood-altering endorphin-type substances which make us feel `high' or which temporarily numb our feelings. However, the downside to these foods is the drop in energy and good-mood levels which takes place afterwards and may result in us feeling worse than before we started. We then experience fatigue and anxiety, which results in us feeling bad about ourselves and, worse, can render us feeling even more depressed. Again, it's a vicious cycle.
Depression has soared in the last few decades. Not only does the World Health Organisation believe that we will be at an epidemic stage by 2020, but, in the UK alone, it is expected that half the women and a quarter of all men will suffer depression at some time in their life (Department of Health - `National Service Framework for Mental Health'). At the same time, the production and sales of processed foods have also soared. According to a food survey carried out by the government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the purchase of processed foods over the last 25 years has significantly increased. Here are some samples from their most recent figures.
The huge rise in processed desserts accounts for much of the large amount of sugar that we eat and sugar is top of the list of bad-mood foods. We buy more ready meals than ever before, including vegetable ready meals; this may indicate how we purchase processed vegetables as opposed to buying fresh vegetables. We are also buying more quick snack foods, which come with a high salt content. Information on soft drinks has only been available sine 1992, but since then our purchase and consumption has risen by 38%.
We are buying fewer fresh vegetables. Foods like carrots are great for the eyes and reduce the need for ocular disease in the future and the need for such procedures as lasik eye surgery or lens replacement surgery. This may leave us vulnerable to buying a `quick meal' from the supermarket. Potatoes are purchased less frequently but we are buying more processed potato foods like frozen chips. Dried pulses are on the decrease and these are an excellent food for helping to beat depression and fatigue as they are high in fibre, protein and have a low glycaemic index (GI). The decrease in flour purchasing means that we are baking less and relying more on ready-baked foods like cakes, bread and pastries to supplement our diets; the problem with these foods is they are high in salt, sugar and trans fats, all of which contribute to a low mood. If we bake ourselves we have more control over our ingredients.