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(520) 586-0800

AzCH Nurse Assist Line


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Diets High in Pasta Can Increase Depression in Women

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

Research from Harvard School of Public Health has found that women who eat a diet high in refined grains such as pasta are about one-third more likely to suffer from depression. Research has long suggested that whole diets were associated with an anti-inflammatory effect, but this is the first study to find a direct link between foods like pasta and bread to mood disorders.

collage of pastaFor the study, the researchers followed 43,000 women between the ages of 50 and 77, none of whom had depression at the start of the research. Over a 12-year period, the researchers found that the women who consumed soft drinks, fatty red meat and refined grains such as pasta, white bread and chips were 29 to 41 percent more likely to be treated for depression.

Some studies have suggested that inflammation in the body is associated with a higher incidence of depression. The researchers in the Harvard study wanted to see if certain foods known to cause inflammation put us at greater risk for depression. They dubbed the eating choices as an "inflammatory dietary pattern." In fact, the high-carb diet pattern revealed increased inflammatory biomarkers in blood tests of the women. The blood tests revealed the women had higher indicators for three biomarkers of the kind of inflammation previously linked to ailments including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. The primary foodstuff that the women with the increased depression ate was pasta.

Pasta already has been criticized as a harmful carbohydrate and fattening foodstuff in recent years. Some dieticians have attempted to argue that pasta is actually a healthy carbohydrate and an important piece of the Mediterranean diet that is considered a useful way to maintain a healthy weight. However, Defining the Mediterranean diet can be challenging because there are approximately 16 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The dietary patterns are different between these countries as well as between areas within each country. The differences in culture, religion, ethnic background, agricultural production and other customs translate to additional diet deviations. Blended together, the common characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include the following:

  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Olive oil as an important monounsaturated fat source
  • Dairy products, fish, eggs and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten

A classic Mediterranean diet, high in B vitamins and essential fatty acids, has a protective role against depression. A study at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain examined 9,670 participants (4,211 men and 5,459 women) and noted that the men and women with a history of following a Mediterranean diet had a significantly decreased incidence of depression. According to the researchers, "The adherence to a Mediterranean Dietary Pattern ensures an adequate intake of fruits, nuts, vegetables, cereals, legumes or fish, important sources of nutrients linked to depression prevention." These foods all do their part to reduce both inflammation and depression.

While woman may not be all that excited to embrace the results coming out from the Harvard study that links pasta and depression, those hoping to avoid depression may want to first look to their diets.


Michel Lucas, Patricia Chocano-Bedoya, Mathias B Shulze, Fariba Mirzaei, Eilis J O'Reilly, Olivia I Okereke, Frank B Hu, Walter C Willett, Alberto Ascherio. (2013). Inflammatory dietary pattern and risk of depression among women. Brain Behavior and Immunity, Oct 1. DOI:pii: S0889-1591(13)00469-8. 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.09.014. [Epub ahead of print]

Sánchez-Villegas A, Henríquez P, Bes-Rastrollo M, Doreste J. (2006). Mediterranean diet and depression. Public Health Nutrition, Dec;9(8A): 1104-9.