Do ultra-processed foods reduce your mental health?

Do ultra-processed foods reduce your mental health?

This article originally appeared clean eating

It’s no secret that highly processed and packaged foods and drinks aren’t the healthiest choice at your local grocery store. After all, these snack foods, convenient frozen dinners, and fast foods may be delicious, but they’re often packed with add-ons like added sugars and plenty of calories. And some are just not processed, and fall into a category called ultra-processed foods.

Should you aim to avoid ultra-processed foods as part of your daily diet? Well, according to recent research, this class of manufactured products may raise some concerns – particularly when it comes to mental health.

What are ultra-processed foods?

Ultra-processed foods are a bit like processed foods. They’re designed to be convenient, affordable, packaged, and easy-to-eat products, like microwave freezer meals or ready-to-eat snacks. Ultra-processed foods made from processed foodThey also contain little or no whole foods. Additionally, ultra-processed foods typically contain additives such as artificial flavors, colorings, emulsifiers, and preservatives.

And it’s more common than you think. More than 70 percent of all packaged foods in the United States can be classified as ultra-processed. In fact, ultra-processed foods make up about 60 percent of all the calories that Americans consume.

But just because these packaged products are convenient and easy to rely on doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always a healthy choice.

Eating a lot of ultra-processed foods can alter mental health

The 2022 study was published in public health nutrition I took a look at how ultra-processed foods affect health and wellness, especially in terms of mental health. The findings suggest that eating a lot of ultra-processed products may be associated with an increased risk of negative mental health symptoms.

This study examined more than 10,300 adults aged 18 or older, with participants selected to create a nationally representative sample of the US population. The researchers categorized the participants’ meals using NOVA . Food Classification Systemwhich takes into account how, to what extent and why food is processed into four categories: unprocessed or minimally processed cooking ingredients, processed and ultraprocessed ingredients.

In addition to evaluating the participants’ diets, the researchers also measured mental health, checking for symptoms of mild depression, the number of “unhealthy” mental days, and the number of anxious days they had.

At the end of the study, the results showed that the participants who ate the most ultra-processed foods experienced significant increases in adverse mental health symptoms, compared to those who ate the least ultra-processed foods. Those who ate a lot of ultra-processed products saw symptoms of mild depression, an increased number of mentally unhealthy days, and more anxious days.

These same participants also had significantly lower rates of reporting no mentally unhealthy days and no anxiety days, indicating that they saw regular or recurring symptoms of depression and mild anxiety.

Why might ultra-processed foods be associated with worse mental health?

Ultra-processed foods are different in nature from whole foods. And while some of these packaged foods can have their benefits, they’re often low in nutritional value and high in unnecessary additives.

As study corresponding author Eric Hecht, MD, PhD, associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt School of Medicine, told Science Daily, “Ultra-processing food depletes its nutritional value and also increases its calorie count, as ultra-processed foods tend to be Rich in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.”

It may very well be that this increase in sugar, saturated fat and salt content – and a lack of essential nutrients that the body needs – contribute to a reduced level of mental health.

Jesse Lynn Lee, Certified Dietitian (CNP) and holistic nutritionHe points out the same ingredients: “Ultra-processed foods often lack the nutrients we need to support our mental health, and are often high in sugar. There are studies linking high sugar consumption to depression And the worry. ”

Instead of relying on highly processed foods, Lynne Lee suggests trying naturally sweet whole foods as alternatives to keep your mental health in check: “If you’re looking for a really quick sweet treat, pack your Medjool date with your favorite nut butter and a few raw cacao nibs.”

How much is too much?

Concerned that eating ultra-processed foods might have the effects listed above on your mental health? Well, while this research does raise some points of concern, ultra-processed foods aren’t always something to avoid. In fact, some foods that fall into this category may surprise you.

While processed and ultra-processed foods are not always the healthiest option, these terms are not clearly defined. Some of these prepared foods are low in nutritional value, Some ultra-processed foods are rich in nutrients Like fortified breakfast cereals and veggie burgers.

So, exactly how much processed food — or highly processed food — might get in the way of your nutrition? According to Lin Li, “In an ideal world, we would avoid ultra-processed foods entirely. It’s hard to say exactly how much excess is too much because it depends so much on an individual’s overall health and environment.”

In the end, it’s all about balance, as Lin Lee explains: “If you generally eat a nutrient-rich diet and limit your exposure to environmental toxins, your body’s ability to handle ultra-processed foods is higher, so you can tolerate them sometimes better than someone else.” It’s generally based on ultra-processed foods. Meal planning and group cooking are great ways to ensure you have healthy foods on hand so you don’t have to resort to frozen meals on a weekly basis.”

To learn more about how nutrition affects mental health, keep reading:

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