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Are ultra-processed foods feeding your bad moods?

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Feeling down or anxious? Eating a lot of ultra-processed foods such as packaged chips, cookies and candy could play a role, results of a recent study suggest.

Using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data to collect a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 adults, researchers looked for ties between the consumption of ultra-processed foods – which contain little or no whole food – and mental health issues. They found that that people who ate the highest amount of ultra-processed foods had statistically significant increases in symptoms of mild depression, “mentally unhealthy days” and “anxious days.”

The researchers note that more than 70% of packaged foods in the United States are classified as ultra-processed, and those products make up 60% of all calories Americans consume.

 

“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, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,” researcher Eric Hecht, a physician and an affiliate associate professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine, said in a press release. “Our study has significant clinical and public health implications.”

The study was published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

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