People who regularly eat ultra-processed foods are more likely to develop mental health complications compared to those who consume less of these types of food, latest evidence shows.

A study conducted by Florida Atlantic University has found that eating foods high in fat, sugar, starch, oil and protein isolates can have a negative impact on your mental health.

Food is classified as ultra-processed when it includes added colourings, flavourings or emulsifiers.

Prior studies have detected a link between ultra-processed foods and depression; however, there is little research on its connection with anxiety and other mental health conditions.

For the study, the team of academics examined the food intake and mental state of more than 10,300 people involved in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

They found that the participants with a higher intake of ultra-processed foods felt more anxious compared to those with a lower consumption.

First author Dr Eric Hecht said: “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.

“More than 70 per cent of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed food and represent about 60 per cent of all calories consumed by Americans.”

He added: “Given the magnitude of exposure to and effects of ultra-processed food consumption, our study has significant clinical and public health implications.”

According to the NOVA food classification, food is categorised into four groups – unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed foods.

Fellow scientist Dr Charles H. Hennekens said: “Data from this study add important and relevant information to a growing body of evidence concerning the adverse effects of ultra-processed consumption on mental health symptoms.

“Analytic epidemiologic research is needed to test the many hypotheses formulated from these descriptive data.”

Approximately one in five people experience mental health complications, the National Institute of Mental Health has reported.
The study has been published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

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