A recent study by food scientists at Zhejiang University in China has found that frequent consumption of fried foods, particularly fried potatoes, is linked to a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed patient data for 140,728 people over 11.3 years.
The research team noted that prior research efforts established links between western dietary patterns and mental health issues.
Suspecting that at least some of the evidence could be traced back to frequent consumption of fried foods, the team compared rates of reported anxiety and depression with accounts of eating behaviors that include frequent consumption of fried foods.
Fried Foods and Mental Health
The study found that those who reported eating a lot of fried foods were more likely to be diagnosed with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
More specifically, they found that symptoms increased by between 7% and 12% in people who reported eating such foods, and that the greatest risk seemed to be associated with eating fried potatoes in the form of french fries.
Acrylamide and Mental Health
Exploring why eating such foods might increase the chances of mental health issues, the team isolated acrylamide, an organic crystalline compound that is soluble in water, which they describe as a food-processing contaminant that appears when food is fried.
They tested the impact of acrylamide on zebrafish and found it reduced their eagerness to explore new territory and reduced their sociability, both signs of scototaxis and thigmotaxis, which are fish behaviors believed to be similar to anxiety and depression in humans.
They also found that consumption of acrylamide downregulated expression of genes associated with the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood.
The study’s findings suggest that reducing fried food consumption could be beneficial for mental health.
However, experts who study nutrition said the results are preliminary, and it’s not necessarily clear whether the fried foods were driving mental health issues, or people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety turned to fried foods.
Regardless, the study provides further evidence that diet can have a significant impact on mental health.
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The research findings can be found in PNAS.
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