Study finds link between ultra-processed foods and mental health

Nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, which are among the leading causes of morbidity, disability, and mortality, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. At the same time, consumption of ultra-processed foods has reached record levels in the US.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine set out to determine if there is a direct connection between UPF consumption and adverse mental health symptoms. 

“Dietary patterns may influence mental health. For example, poor dietary patterns which lack essential nutrients, have a high glycemic index, and are high in added sugars may lead to adverse mental health symptoms,”​ researchers argued in the study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition​.

“While there is some evidence regarding UPF consumption and depression, data are sparse regarding other adverse mental health symptoms including anxiety and mentally unhealthy days.

“More than 70% of packaged foods in the US are classified as ultra-processed food and represent about 60% of all calories consumed by Americans. Given the magnitude of exposure to and effects of ultra-processed food consumption, our study has significant clinical and public health implications,” ​said study author Eric Hecht, M.D., Ph.D., and an affiliate associate professor in FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine.

According to recent research​, UPF accounted for over half (57%) of calories consumed by US adults in 2017-2018, up from 53.5% in the 2001-2002 period. In contrast, consumption of whole foods decreased from 32.7% (in 2001-2002) to 27.4% in 2017-2018.

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