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One Major Side Effect of an Unhealthy Diet for Women, Says Science

Indulging in a few too many treats could have consequences for more than just your waistline.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Practically everyone knows what it's like to feel less than stellar after an unhealthy meal. You may feel sluggish, sleepy, or even grumpy about the less-than-healthy choice you've just made. However, new research suggests that eating an unhealthy diet may have more serious consequences for your well-being in the long run—and it's not just your weight or physical appearance your diet can affect.

In order to test whether or not a customized diet could lead to improvements in mood among men and women age 30 and older, researchers at Binghamton University asked study subjects to take a questionnaire about their eating habits and their mood. Using a multi-variable analysis, their findings—published in the May 2021 volume of the Journal of Personalized Medicine—demonstrated an unsurprising association between a healthy diet and positive affect. However, the study's researchers also discovered a significant link between unhealthy eating and poor mood, especially among the study's female participants.

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"We found that for unhealthy dietary patterns, the level of mental distress was higher in women than in men, which confirmed that women are more susceptible to unhealthy eating than men," said Lina Begdache, an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University and the study's lead author, in a statement.

Not all unhealthy eating habits are created equal when it comes to your mental health, though—some food and drink choices were more closely associated with poor mood than others.

busy fast food
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"Fast food, skipping breakfast, caffeine, and high-glycemic (HG) food are all associated with mental distress in mature women," explained Begdache.

On the other hand, the study's authors found that "fruits and dark green leafy vegetables (DGLV) are associated with mental well-being."

That said, just because your diet isn't ideal doesn't mean that getting into an emotional funk is a foregone conclusion. The study's authors found that one specific healthy habit could help attenuate the risk of unhealthy food affecting your mental health. "The extra information we learned from this study is that exercise significantly reduced the negative association of HG food and fast food with mental distress," said Begdache.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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