Sandisiwe Mbhele

By Sandisiwe Mbhele

UX Content Writer

How ultra-processed foods can make us depressed

If you value your mental health, you should probably stay away from fast food and other ultra-processed foods.

Our eating habits have an influence on our mental health. According to a new American study, consuming ultra-processed food, rich in added sugars, saturated fats and salt has an influence on our mood.

However, these products are widely available. In the United States, they represent 70% of packaged foods, according to the authors.

If you value your mental health, you should probably stay away from fast food and other ultra-processed foods. At least that’s the conclusion of a study conducted by Florida Atlantic University and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition

To carry out their research, the specialists used a large panel including 10,359 American adults who had never used drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin. During one month, the researchers measured “mild depression,” the number of “mental unhealthy days” and anxious days.

To do this, a questionnaire was filled out daily by the volunteers. To measure the quality of food, the researchers used the classification system called NOVA, adopted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

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It differentiates food products into four categories: “unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed foods,” the study says. They found that people who eat the most ultra-processed foods show symptoms of poor mental health compared to people who eat less. 

What effects do ultra-processed foods have on the brain? Ultra-processed foods are products that contain oils, fats, sugar, starch, as well as flavours, dyes, etc.

Furthermore, there is little or no whole food in their composition. Among the most common products are sodas, sweet snacks, ready-made meals, etc. Once consumed, these foods are deleterious to the brain and therefore the mood.

“Poor diets dysregulate brain insulin which affects mood, decreases neuronal levels of serotonin and dopamine and increases neuroinflammation as measured by inflammatory cytokines,” explain the researchers. Serotonin is known as the hormone of happiness; while dopamine is the hormone of immediate pleasure. 

“Data from this study add important and relevant information to a growing body of evidence concerning the adverse effects of ultra-processed consumption on mental health symptoms,” said Dr Charles H. Hennekens, study co-author in a press release.

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