Turns Out Ultra-Processed Foods Can Lead To Mental Health Issues - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Turns Out Ultra-Processed Foods Can Lead To Mental Health Issues

A new study shows a link between ultra-processed foods and poor mental health

We all have our guilty pleasures. Do you love a can of soft drink to pair with your lunch? Or do you have an affinity for potato chips? While occasional junk food can be alright in moderation, its well-known that these vices aren’t great for your physical health. A new study has shown that ultra-processed foods also aren’t the best for your mental health, regardless of how good they make you feel while you’re eating them.

The study from Florida Atlantic University shows that people who consume more ultra-processed food are significantly more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety. This means it might be time to look for some alternatives to ultra-processed foods to protect your mental health, if bloating, weight gain and a severe lack of nutritional value didn’t already scare you away.

We’ve been taught to avoid processed food, but there’s an important distinction between processed and ultra-processed. By definition, a processed food is simply one that’s been changed from its original form. Heated, pasteurised, and canned products are all counted as processed, irrespective of how much change the product has actually undergone. Some definitions even put refrigeration in the mix. So, unless you’re plucking your fruit straight from a garden or drinking your milk straight from the cow, the majority of food you eat is probably processed.

Ultra-processed foods are designed to be convenient, low cost, ready-to-eat and oh-so-tempting, but the processes used to make them create products that are deficient in actual nutritious goodness. Ultra-processed foods usually include additives such as preservatives, sweeteners, artificial colours, and flavours, which are added in chemical processes.

“The ultra-processing of food depletes its nutritional value and also increases the number of calories, as ultra-processed foods tend to be high in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,” said Dr Eric Hecht, corresponding author of the study. “More than 70 percent of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed food and represent about 60 percent of all calories consumed by Americans.”

The study also showed that people who consume a lot of ultra-processed food were unlikely to report having zero mentally unhealthy days. Though the connection between ultra-processed food and mental health isn’t clear, its believed that this study is a big step towards establishing evidence of the correlation.

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

The difference between processed and ultra-processed isn’t always obvious. But the next time you’re at the supermarket, consider swapping out white bread for multigrain, fried chicken for a rotisserie chicken, and a soft drink for sparkling water, they’ll be better for your mental health – and not just because you won’t feel guilty eating them.

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

More From

Testicular Cancer Tom Haddon
Meet Tom Haddon, a testicular cancer survivor raising awareness and breaking down stigma

Meet Tom Haddon, a testicular cancer survivor raising awareness and breaking down stigma

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young men, but few of them know that, and even less know how to check for warning signs. For Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke with Tom Haddon, a testicular cancer survivor who is now working to raise awareness on the condition and break down the stigma surrounding men’s health issues