Although ultra-processed foods are convenient, low cost, quick to prepare or ready-to-eat, these industrial formulations of processed food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch, protein isolates) contain little or no whole food. They result from extensive ‘physical, biological, and chemical processes’ that create food products that are deficient in original and natural food. Ultra-processed foods typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers and other cosmetic additives.
While there is some evidence regarding ultra-processed food consumption and depression, data are sparse regarding other adverse mental health symptoms including anxiety and mentally unhealthy days.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine and collaborators explored a nationally representative sample of the United States population to determine if individuals who consume high amounts of ultra-processed foods report significantly more adverse mental health symptoms including depression, anxiety and mentally unhealthy days.
Results of the study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, showed that individuals who consumed the most ultra-processed foods as compared with those who consumed the least amount had statistically significant increases in the adverse mental health symptoms of mild depression, “mentally unhealthy days” and “anxious days.” They also had significantly lower rates of reporting zero “mentally unhealthy days” and zero “anxious days.” Findings from this study are generalizable to the entire U.S. as well as other Western countries with similar ultra-processed food intakes.
Researchers used the NOVA food classification for the study, which is a widely used system recently adopted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. NOVA considers the nature, extent and purpose of food processing in order to categorize foods and beverages into four groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed foods.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness. Mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, are leading causes of morbidity, disability and mortality (NS/Newswise)