Health Uncategorized

Ultra Processed Food intake linked to mental blues

Mental health

HQ Team

October 13, 2022: Mental health disorder is becoming a global priority, with experts demanding that the disorder be included with the “big four” diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and diabetes.

A recent study on mental health says that people who consume large amounts of ultra-processed foods report significantly more adverse symptoms of the disorder.

Ultra-processed foods usually contain additives such as flavorings, colorings, sugar, fat, and salt and are totally devoid of any good nutritional value.

There are ample studies to show the relationship between the consumption of processed food with obesity and related health conditions, but research on the relationship between processed food and mental health outcomes is few and far between.

“I am a chronic disease epidemiologist and as such I am interested in a variety of different hypothesized disease causing exposures, and various health outcomes,” explained study author Eric Hecht, a physician and an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami. “Ultra-processed food is of tremendous interest for a variety of health outcomes including obesity and inflammatory diseases.”

“Other studies have also explored the relationship between diet and mental health, but few have examined the relationship between UPF consumption and mental health. Anecdotally, I have often wondered about a relationship between junk food and subsequent behavioral issues in kids and symptoms of anxiety and melancholy in adults. All of these ideas sort of led to this study.”

Study Methodology

For the study, 10,359 participants over the age of 18 from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were observed for mild depression, the number of mentally unhealthy days and anxiety.  The survey collects data from physical examinations and interviews. And more importantly, it also collects information regarding diet behaviors and mental health. The researchers controlled for variables such as age, ethnicity, BMI, social and economic status, etc

The cross-sectional data revealed a direct correlation between the consumption of ultra-processed foods with worse mental health outcomes. Individuals who consumed the most ultra-processed foods had heightened symptoms of mild depression along with more “mentally unhealthy days” and “anxious days” over the past month compared with those who consumed the least amount.

The average American consumes 60% of their calories in the form of UPF.  Along with its adverse outcomes on physical health, now there is evidence linking its overconsumption to mental distress.

People who reported less than 20 per cent intake of UPF daily reported zero mentally unhealthy days and zero anxious days. “I was impressed that individuals who consume a diet with less UPF generally describe their last 30 days as being free of mental health symptoms,” Hecht said.

Caveats on UPF and mental health association

But the study, like all research, has some constraints and caveats.

Most importantly, as the study was cross-sectional, it was difficult to determine whether mental disorders followed UPF or the other way around.  Hecht explained, “Reverse causation, meaning mental health symptoms might increase UPF consumption is a real possibility. Arguing against this, however, are longitudinal studies which found a temporal relationship between junk food consumption and mental health symptoms. In addition, experimental studies have found that reducing junk food improves mental health symptoms when compared to individuals who continue their poor diet.”

“The link between UPF consumption and obesity, and the link between UPF consumption and inflammation also suggest pathways towards mental health symptoms since both extra weight gain and inflammation can lead to mental health symptoms as found in other studies,” the researcher added.

The study, “Cross-sectional examination of ultra-processed food consumption and adverse mental health symptoms“, was published in Public Health Nutrition.

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