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Ultra-processed food linked to worse mental health, study finds

By Rhythm Sachdeva

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — New research has found that people who eat ultra-processed meals have greater anxiety and more “mentally unhealthy days” than those who don’t.

While ultra-processed foods (UPF) are affordable and ready to eat, they contain little to no whole food because they’re made from industrially produced oils, fats, sugars, starches, and protein isolates. The food group’s impacts on a person’s physical health are well documented, but previously, there has been limited data on how they impact people’s mental health.

A new study by Florida Atlantic University published in the journal Public Health Nutrition sampled more than 10,000 adults in the U.S. to measure the connection between UPF consumption and mental health symptoms.

Researchers used a representative sample from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2012, settling on 10,359 adult participants without a history of drug use.

They also employed the widely used NOVA food classification, which was recently adopted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

NOVA classifies foods and beverages into four groups—unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary components, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods based on how they are processed.

Researchers investigated whether people who ate higher amounts of UPF were more likely to experience moderate depression, mentally unhealthy days, and anxiety per month.

They found that, compared to those who consumed the least amount, people who consumed the most UPF had statistically significant increases in negative mental health symptoms.

The group consuming the most was also least likely to report no days when they didn’t experience mentally unhealthy or anxious days.

The study’s researchers say that the findings of this study are generally applicable to all of the U.S. as well as to other Western countries with similar levels of ultra-processed food consumption.

Canadians consume almost half their daily calories from ultra-processed foods, a 2017 study conducted by The University of Montreal found.

It also discovered that children aged between nine and 13 consumed the most of the food group.

“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,” Eric Hecht, co-author of the study said in a release.

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

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Sonja Puzic

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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