Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Depression

Bag of potato chips
Bag of potato chips | Image by Akarat Thongsatid/Shutterstock

Yet another study has shown that what we eat affects us not only physically but also mentally.

Research appearing in JAMA Network recently concluded that eating ultra-processed foods increases one’s risk for depression.

Ultra-processed foods are a hallmark of modern-day living, where convenience often outweighs nutrition.

Food manufacturers of packaged cookies, chips, and more not only use chemical additives to help give products a longer shelf-life but also often add salt, oil, and sugar to make them more palatable to consumers.

“This makes them easy to eat,” Karen Berg, a New York-based licensed nutritionist, told Medical News Today. “They are also usually high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar which can lead to weight gain.”

“They usually don’t have any worthwhile nutritional benefits,” Berg added.

Obesity is a raging problem in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that the adult obesity rate climbed from 30.5% to 41.9% between 1999 and 2017.

Carrying excess weight, especially for longer periods of one’s life, has been linked to an array of negative health outcomes ranging from heart disease to fertility issues.

To investigate how ultra-processed foods might impact one’s mental health, researchers from Harvard Medical School tracked the daily food logs and mental health assessments of 31,712 middle-aged female participants between 2003 and 2017.

Several other contributing factors, such as age, activity levels, alcohol intake, and smoking, were also accounted for.

Despite having no depression at the start of the study, 2,122 developed this serious mood disorder in the strictest sense — resulting in both clinical diagnosis and antidepressant use — and 4,840 did in a broader sense — resulting in either clinical diagnosis or antidepressant use.

The study’s findings suggested a startlingly direct correlation between increased intake of ultra-processed foods and higher risks for depression.

This was especially true in the case of artificial sweeteners, which could bump up inflammation in the body by catalyzing an immune response.

“Although the mechanism associating [ultra-processed foods] to depression is unknown, recent experimental data suggests that artificial sweeteners elicit purinergic transmission in the brain, which may be involved in the etiopathogenesis of depression,” the study read.

While the study was limited in scope due to its focus on middle-aged women and reliance on self-reporting, it adds to a growing body of research on how what we eat plays a vital role in both physical and mental well-being.

For instance, another study hailing from Brazil found that the regular consumption of ultra-processed foods was linked to a heightened risk of dementia, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.

Yet another from China pointed to regularly eating fast food — especially the beloved French fry — as driving higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Considering that we are what we eat, be sure to add a few superfoods to your plate since they not only fight obesity but also stave off the blues.

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