Scientists from Florida Atlantic University found that ultra-processed foods may make people feel anxious or depressed.
Although ultra-processed foods are convenient, low cost, quick to prepare or ready-to-eat, these industrial formulations of processed food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch, protein isolates) contain little or no whole food.
Ultra-processed foods typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers and other cosmetic additives.
In the study, researchers examined whether individuals who consume higher amounts of ultra-processed food have more adverse mental health symptoms, including depression and anxiety.
They measured mild depression, the number of mentally unhealthy days and number of anxious days in 10,359 adults 18 and older from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The team showed that people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods had big increases in the adverse mental health symptoms of mild depression, “mentally unhealthy days” and “anxious days.”
They also had much lower rates of reporting zero “mentally unhealthy days” and zero “anxious days.”
Findings from this study are generalizable to the entire U.S. as well as other Western countries with similar ultra-processed food intakes.
The researchers say the ultra-processing of food depletes its nutritional value and also increases the number of calories, as ultra-processed foods tend to be high in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
More than 70 percent of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed food and represent about 60 percent of all calories consumed by Americans.
Given the magnitude of exposure to and effects of ultra-processed food consumption, this study has significant clinical and public health implications.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness. Mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, are leading causes of morbidity, disability and mortality.
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The research was published in the journal Public Health Nutrition and conducted by Eric Hecht et al.
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