According to a new report, consuming highly processed foods (UPFs), including packaged snacks, sweets, and frozen meals, may lead to anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline.
Despite decades of research that links processed food to an increased risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity, researchers are still studying why UPFs are associated with mental health issues. It is essential to distinguish between different types of processed foods.
Food Classification: The Brazilian researchers created a four-part scale to classify food, with unprocessed and minimally processed at one end of the spectrum, processed foods like butter, sugar, and dairy products in the middle, and UPFs at the other end, including high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, protein isolates, and chemical additives.
Is All Packaged Food UPF?: According to the classification system, over 70% of packaged foods sold in the US are considered ultra-processed, often more palatable and satisfying than natural foods.
UPF Impacts Your Mood: Recent studies have shown a connection between highly processed foods and low mood. According to one study of over 10,000 adults in the United States, those who ate more UPFs were more likely to report mild depression or anxiety.
UPF may Lower Cognitive Performance: In another study that followed 11,000 Brazilian adults over a decade, researchers found a correlation between eating ultra-processed foods and worse cognitive function. According to the researchers, cognitive decline accelerated by 28% in people who consumed more than 20% of their calories from UPFs.
What Could be the Reason: It is still unclear why UPFs have this effect on the brain. According to experts, diets high in UPFs are usually low in fiber, which is necessary for producing short-chain fatty acids that play a critical role in the gut-brain axis. When gut health is poor, it might negatively affect the brain.
Eat Healthy: Eating a healthy diet, such as the MIND diet, may offset the negative effects of consuming UPFs, the researchers suggest. The MIND diet, rich in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, berries, fish, chicken, and olive oil, reduced the dementia risk associated with consuming ultra-processed foods.
MIND Diet may Help: Those who followed the MIND diet but still ate UPFs "had no association between UPF consumption and cognitive decline," according to the researchers. However, researchers still do not know what a safe quantity of UPFs is.
In Conclusion: although UPFs are often convenient and delicious, they have many negative health effects, including mental health issues. Consuming a healthy diet rich in natural, whole foods may help offset the negative effects of consuming ultra-processed foods.