In a groundbreaking study from Australia, researchers have discovered a link between diets high in ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of depression. The study, recently published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, reveals that the risk of depression notably increases when individuals’ daily diets consist of more than 30% ultra-processed food.
The research was conducted by Dr. Melissa Lane as part of her Ph.D. studies at Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre. Dr. Lane explained that the findings offer further evidence of the extensive harm caused by diets filled with inexpensive, heavily marketed, but often nutrient-poor convenience foods.
What are Ultra-Processed Foods?
Ultra-processed foods extend beyond typical junk and fast foods. They also encompass mass-produced and highly refined products that might be considered relatively “neutral” or even “healthy.” Examples include diet soft drinks, some fruit juices and flavored yogurts, margarine, packet preparations of foods like scrambled egg and mashed potato, and many ready-to-heat-and-eat pasta dishes.
Working alongside Dr. Priscila Machado from Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) and Associate Professor Allison Hodge from the Cancer Council Victoria, Dr. Lane evaluated the associations between ultra-processed food consumption and depression in over 23,000 Australians from the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study.
The study revealed that Australians who consumed the most ultra-processed food had about a 23% higher risk of depression compared to those who ate the least. The study tracked individuals who were initially not taking any medication for depression and anxiety over 15 years.
Dr. Lane noted that even after adjusting for factors like smoking, lower education, income, and physical activity – all associated with poor health outcomes – the findings clearly showed that higher consumption of ultra-processed food was linked with a higher risk of depression.
Implications and Future Directions
While the study does not prove that ultra-processed food directly causes depression, it does show that eating more ultra-processed food is associated with an increased risk of depression.
Depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders worldwide, significantly affecting daily living and overall well-being through persistent low energy, changes in appetite and sleep, loss of interest or pleasure, sadness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
“Identifying a critical level of consumption that may increase the risk of depression will help consumers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers make more informed decisions around dietary choices, interventions, and public health strategies,” stated Dr. Lane.
The team hopes that this study will contribute to the promotion of mental well-being and guide efforts to prevent or reduce the prevalence, development, and symptom severity of depression within the community.
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The study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
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