Good nutrition is essential to achieving optimal fitness. While this may seem obvious, how many of us really keep track of what we eat on a daily basis? A recent scientific study and a recent controversy have put the importance of knowing the nutritional value of our food at the center of national attention.

Published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study shows that regularly eating fast food – such as pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs – is linked to an increased risk of depression. The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada, also implicates doughnuts, croissants and other commercial baked goods.

“The more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression,” Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The study has sparked debate about the cause-and-effect of the fast food/depression link. Other researchers have suggested that eating a regular diet of fast foods is a symptom, rather than cause, of clinical depression.

“Higher intake of fast food may very well increase risks of depression by causing poor health in general,” said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn. “But depression may also increase fast food intake. We use the term ‘comfort food’ for a reason. It can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. So it may be that people with depression are turning to [fast food] for relief.”

Enter the controversy: pink slime.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is among food activists who have criticized the use of what they’ve dubbed “pink slime,” a filler produced by treating finely ground beef scraps with ammonia hydroxide to kill bacteria. The infamous name was prompted by the filler’s unnatural-looking bubble gum pink color and slick texture.

In the food processing industry, the filler is known as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). It’s made from scraps of beef simmered at low heat and spun at high speed to remove the fat, then spritzed with ammonia. It is then sold and used to “beef up” ground meat, allowing hamburger lovers to indulge while keeping prices low.

Some people say it’s mainly a matter of semantics. After all, “lean, finely textured beef” sounds like a good thing. Except for the ammonia. Still, the shock expressed by consumers suggests that few people are aware of the ingredients and nutritional value of their food.

What to do? Becoming informed about what and how to eat to achieve a healthy lifestyle is the responsibility of each of us. Whether fast food’s relationship to depression is cause or effect, making it the mainstay of your diet isn’t beneficial on any level. As for what may be in some fast foods, choosing food that’s as fresh and unprocessed as possible – whenever possible – reduces the chance of being unpleasantly surprised when the next food scandal breaks.

Fortunately, members of Future Fitness have an additional advantage in making a commitment to healthy eating: free nutritional counseling. So be aware of what you’re eating, and keep informed. And if you’re a Future Fitness member, schedule a session with one of our nutritional counselors today!