Ultra-Processed Foods Identified as Factors Augmenting Depression Risk

Ultra-processed foods can cause inflammation and affect the immune system. (Photo via unsplash.com)

Busy contemporary lives lead individuals to opt for convenient processed foods to promptly satisfy hunger, potentially causing nutrient deficiencies and health issues. A study by Deakin University in Australia suggests that, in addition to affecting physical health, the consumption of ultra-processed foods heightens the risk of depression.

Taipei, Taiwan (ADH News) – Deakin University’s research in Victoria, Australia, highlights that the consumption of ultra-processed foods not only impacts health but also amplifies the risk of depression. This study mainly explores the importance of high-quality food for brain health and calls on the food industry to change its current practices of excessive processing or additives.

Studies have mentioned that ultra-processed foods can affect brain and intestinal health. If eating habits are not adjusted, the risk of major diseases such as heart disease and diabetes will increase, and it will also cause psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

Which foods are ultra-processed? In the global NOVA food classification system, ultra-processed food refers to foods that do not use commonly used natural ingredients, but add industrialized food formulas such as artificial sweeteners, fats, emulsifiers, and trans fats to make their taste, texture, and appearance like real food. And these foods contain almost no natural nutrients.

Common ultra-processed foods include carbonated drinks, energy drinks, heat-and-eat meals, snacks, potato chips, cans, hot dogs, cereals, factory-produced bread and pasta, and a variety of frozen foods such as burgers and pizzas that can be found everywhere in supermarkets and all around us in our lives.

Research has found that ultra-processed foods can interfere with physiological mechanisms, reduce the brain’s adaptability, and put the body in a state of inflammation, thereby affecting the immune system. These foods can also stimulate oxidation reactions in the body, cause cell aging, and increase the risk of cancer. The most serious thing is that it will reduce the number of intestinal microflora and damage the gut-brain axis, causing communication problems between the digestive tract and the central nervous system. This would affect the emotional health of children, worsen depression in the elderly, and cause cognitive decline. It also worsens immune, metabolic, and cancer problems.

Melissa Lane, who works at Deakin’s Food and Mood Center and is the lead author of the paper, mentioned that when our diet contains more than 30% ultra-processed foods, the risk of depression will increase. It can be said that the 30% ratio is an important threshold. Even if we eat more fruits and vegetables, we cannot offset the emotional problems such as depression and anxiety caused by these ultra-processed foods, as well as the risk of depression.

For busy modern people, these ultra-processed foods are convenient, affordable, and come with attractive packaging and promotions that attract many people to buy them. According to statistics from 28 countries around the world, the average person consumes 17% to 56% of ultra-processed foods every day. The fats, sugars, pigments, and other artificial additives contained in them affect our physical and mental health and become the main causes of type 2 diabetes and obesity. It also consumes our brain capital, including innovation, learning ability, intelligence, and mental health, which are all threatened.

In a modern society, it is inevitable to choose convenient and instant foods to save time, but remember to pay attention to the proportion of ultra-processed food and never overeat. Only by increasing the proportion of natural foods can we supplement the nutrients needed by the body and maintain physical and mental health. As long as we take good care of our brains and guts, we can maintain clear thinking, reduce emotional problems, and keep depression away from us.

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