Scientists from Florida Atlantic University found that ultra-processed foods may make people feel anxious or depressed.
Depression (also called a major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder.
It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear.
For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships.
Ultra-processed foods go through multiple processes (extrusion, molding, milling, etc.), contain many added ingredients, and are highly manipulated.
Examples are soft drinks, chips, chocolate, candy, ice cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, packaged soups, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, fries, and more.
Previous research found that more ultra-processed foods in the diet are linked to higher risks of obesity, heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, cancer, frailty, depression, and death.
These harms can be caused by the foods’ poor nutritional profile, as many are high in added sugars, salt, and trans-fats.
In the current study, researchers aimed to explore whether people who consume higher amounts of ultra-processed food have worse mental health symptoms.
They measured ultra-processed food intake as a percentage of total energy intake in kilo-calories.
They tested whether people who consume higher amounts of ultra-processed food were more likely to report mild depression, more mentally unhealthy days, and more anxious days per month.
The team used data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2012. This included 10 359 adults without a history of substance use.
The researchers found people with the highest level of ultra-processed food intake were much more likely to report at least mild depression, more mentally unhealthy, and more anxious days every month.
They were also much less likely to report zero mentally unhealthy or anxious days.
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that people with higher intakes of ultra-processed food are much more likely to report mild depression, more mentally unhealthy and more anxious days, and less likely to report zero mentally unhealthy or anxious days.
These results add important evidence showing the harmful effects of ultra-processed food on mental health.
The research was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition and conducted by Eric Hecht et al.
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