Study links ultra-processed foods with depression

Experts say incorporating more vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in fruits and vegetables can improve mood.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 10:56 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - New research finds a link between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and depression. The findings in a study out of Italy reveal people with the highest ultra-processed food consumption report twice as high a chance for depressive symptoms.

JRegistered dietician and nutritionist Jerlyn Jones said processed foods are manufactured to make consumers crave more, despite causing long-term harm.

“When I’m sad or depressed, I go for foods that tend to make me feel better – foods higher in fat, higher in sugar and salt,” said Jones. “They hire scientists to make sure you want to eat it more.”

Experts say it is not clear whether depression is a cause or effect of processed food consumption.

“They give us pleasure, they’re enjoyable,” said Jones. “The more you eat, the more you’re going to want to eat and buy those types of foods.”

Nearly one in ten Americans report having depression, with some of the highest rates coming from low-income communities without access to fresh food.

Ultra-processed food makes up nearly 60 percent of the typical American diet.

Atlanta Instacart shopper Sydney Ferrell sees the high demand for processed foods every day. Ferrell said most grocery orders contain requests for processed foods.

“It’s really crazy,” said Ferrell. “People are eating snacks, chips, hella sodas and things – and I wonder how everyone is living off that.”

Access to fresh produce can be a major problem in food deserts, largely in east, west, and south Atlanta.

Ferrell noted the demand for processed food in Atlanta seems to be highest in south Atlanta.

“It’s not their fault. It’s access,” said Ferrell.

Experts say incorporating more vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in fruits and vegetables can improve mood.

“Take it one meal at a time,” said Jones. “Substitute those potato chips for something else, maybe those baby carrots.”

Consumers should also check ingredients and avoid foods with preservatives, additives, and emulsifiers to help them stay shelf stable.

Foods with sugar within the first five ingredients should also be avoided.