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The foods we choose to consume, have an undeniable link to how we feel. Both from an energy perspective and also mental health picture.

New research out of the USA has looked at whether individuals who consume higher amounts of Ultra-processed foods (UPF) have more adverse mental health symptoms.

UPF such as soft drinks reconstituted meat products, packaged snacks, chips, breakfast cereals, cookies, cake, chips, and breads and numerous other packaged foods. These foods are often high in sugar, unhealthy fats, artificial flavouring, colourings, salt etc. Additionally, these foods are often low in fibre, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Specifically, the study assessed whether individuals who consume higher amounts of UPF were more likely to report mild depression, more mentally unhealthy days and more anxious days per month.

UPF may impact mood via the following mechanisms:

  • High glycaemic index causing blood sugar and insulin imbalance.
  • Increased levels of neuro-inflammation.
  • Devoid of nutrients contributing to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Negatively impacts the intestinal microbiome which can lead to systemic and neuro-inflammation.

The study involved, 10 359 adults aged 18 years and over, without a history of drug use. Median age was 42.2 years. The data used was from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2012.

The mental health symptoms measured were; mild depression; number of mental unhealthy days and number of anxious days.

Results of the study showed:

  • UPF constituted 57 % of total energetic intake.
  • individuals with the highest level of UPF consumption were significantly more likely to report:
    • at least mild depression;
    • more number of mental unhealthy days;
    • more anxious days per month; and
    • less likely to report zero mentally unhealthy or anxious days.

Overall, the study adds to the growing body of evidence that UPF consumption can negatively affect mental health. This provides us with useful information to not only help treat but also prevent poor mental health.

Easy Swaps to cut back on ultra-processed foods
Refined breakfast cereal >>> whole rolled oats
Flavoured milk >>> fruit smoothie using real fruit
Soft drink >>> naturally flavoured sparkling water
Chips >>> popcorn or roasted chickpeas/fava beans
Bottled dressings >>> extra virgin olive oil + balsamic + herbs + s&p
Lollies >>> dehydrated fruit (no added sugar or oil) or fresh fruit
Biscuits >>> homemade oat biscuits using maple syrup/honey
Flavoured crackers >>> wholegrain crackers, buckwheat cakes or seed crackers