Study finds link between ultra-processed foods and mental health

Nearly one in five adults lives 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 in the US has reached record levels.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine wanted to determine whether there is a direct link between UPF consumption and adverse psychological symptoms.

“Dietary patterns can affect mental health. For example, poor diets that lack essential nutrients, have a high glycemic index and are high in added sugars can lead to adverse mental health symptoms.”researchers argued in the study, published in the magazine ​Public health Nutrition​​.

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“Although there is some evidence regarding UPF consumption and depressiondata is scarce on other adverse psychological symptoms, including anxiety and mentally unhealthy days.

“More than 70% of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed foods and represent approximately 60% of all calories consumed by Americans. Given the magnitude of exposure to and the effects of consuming ultra-processed foods, our research has yielded significant clinical results and public health implications”, said study author Eric Hecht, MD, Ph.D., and an affiliated associate professor at the FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine.

According to recent researchUPF accounted for more than half (57%) of the calories consumed by American adults in 2017-2018, compared to 53.5% in the 2001-2002 period. In contrast, the consumption of whole foods decreased from 32.7% (in 2001-2002) to 27.4% in 2017-2018.

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