Old Man Drinking - © Council On Substance Abuse

Sunday Musings: Processed Foods And Depression

A new study from Australia suggests a direct link between ultra-processed foods and depression. It also suggests a delayed reaction, with mental health issues showing up as much as a decade after starting to consume UP foods…

Depression - © Harvard Health

What they did

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, analysed data from 23,299 subjects in the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study between 27 and 76 years of age.

What they found

The main findings of the study are summed up in a few key points:

  • The more that a person’s daily calories come from ultra-processed (UP) foods, the more likely they are to experience depression long-term, a new study suggests.
  • The association between these foods and depression persisted regardless of sex, body mass index, age, marital status, social living situation, or level of physical activity.
  • Australia’s population gets a high percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods, but residents of the United States and the United Kingdom residents get even more.

Researchers found a linear relationship between consumption of UP foods and the development of depressive conditions.

“We noticed that when people ate more or increasing amounts of ultra-processed foods, their chances of getting depressed went up,” said study lead author Dr. Melissa Lane. “This risk became higher than what most people in our study experienced when ultra-processed foods made up about 30 percent of everything they ate.”

The study also reported that, “…adolescents who consumed ultra-processed foods regularly were more likely to have depression symptoms a decade later than their counterparts who followed healthier diets.”

The causal factors

“[Ultra-processed foods] tend to lack important nutrients like protein and fiber, while containing excessive amounts of carbohydrates, saturated fat, and energy,” Lane observes. “These factors have been associated with gut problems and inflammation, which are linked to depression.”

“Certain additives and compounds formed during intense food processing or found in packaging may also influence mental well-being through their influence on the gut and the immune system.”

The takeaway

The clear implication is, changing your diet to include fewer UP foods and more fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and veggie proteins can improve your chances of avoiding mental health issues. Especially later in life, after prolonged periods of consuming high levels of UP foods.

My take

It makes perfect sense to me. Especially the part about the possible connection of  ‘additives and compounds formed during intense food processing or found in packaging’.

There is evidence that the level of UP foods may be an overall indicator of national mental health. If so, that’s bad news for North Americans and Europeans.

“There is evidence [from a] Trusted Source,” says Dr. André de Oliviera Werneck of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, “that sales of ultra-processed products are higher in North American and Australasian countries, as well as in Western European countries.” He confirms that, “most studies in the United States and the United Kingdom [show an average] contribution of ultra-processed foods to the total energy intake above 50 percent.”

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.