Feeling depressed? Eating more fiber could help
Chinese researchers found consuming more total dietary fiber can lower the risk of depressive symptoms, according to a study published online in the journal Nutrition.
The researchers found that when total daily fiber intake from cereals, vegetables and fruit was 21 grams, people were less likely to exhibit depression symptoms. The average intake for most Americans is 15 grams of dietary fiber per day.
The scientists, from the School of Public Health at Qingdao University, analyzed data from a U.S. survey of more than 16,000 people to reach their conclusions. They cautioned that further studies are needed to confirm their results.
Fiber has increasingly become top-of-mind for today’s health-conscious consumers, but its use as a depression deterrent is a new value-add. The authors of this study aren't sure how fiber influences depressive symptoms, Nutra Ingredients noted, but they speculate it may have an impact on intestinal microbiota, which then influences brain function. This interaction, known as the "gut-brain axis," is behind the development of prebiotics, probiotics and other nutraceuticals and functional foods. These items can enhance healthy bacteria in the gut and result in positive health outcomes.
Even before this study, fiber was associated with several positive impacts on health. Eating a high-fiber diet can balance blood sugar levels, help with digestion, lower cholesterol and potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, according to research.
Although nutritionists recommend getting the daily recommended amount of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, food manufacturers are adding fiber to Activia yogurt, Fiber One ice cream and some beverages. They've recently gotten the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use eight non-digestible carbohydrates to augment the fiber content in foods and boost the total amount per serving listed on Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels.
Manufacturers of foods and beverages containing fiber are likely to embrace this study's conclusion since it could mean a lucrative new label claim for them, depending on the product. Many consumers would eagerly snap up items advertising that their dietary fiber content can decrease the risk of depression — as long as there's a solid scientific basis for the claim so shoppers don't become skeptical and avoid such products. Companies would be wise to wait until further studies verify these results before trying to profit.
In addition to supplements designed to boost brain health and overall emotional well-being, certain ingredients in foods and beverages — or ones that are added to these products — are said to have those same effects. Dark chocolate may be able to enhance cognitive function and creativity. Turmeric has been found to improve both memory and mood in older adults. And red wine might improve cardiovascular, brain and gut health.
No doubt additional ingredients making similar claims will be introduced to the marketplace as their beneficial physiological impacts are discovered. Both consumers and manufacturers stand to gain from the situation — as long as the science is there and the advantages being marketed are actually experienced.