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The Healthy Foods You Have Right Now May Be Increasing Your Risk of Depression and Poor Mental Health

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New research cautions that certain foods, which seemingly promote wellness or appear nutritionally harmless, might actually heighten the risk of depression.

Certain food items, which seemingly seem nutritious or at least not harmful to your diet, may actually heighten your chances of experiencing depression. This was the alarming revelation of a recent research which scrutinized both the eating patterns and psychological health of over 23,000 individuals in Australia.

The research identified a connection between consumption of highly processed foods and a heightened risk of depressive disorders. More specifically, it was observed that a significant surge in mental health issues arose amongst individuals who included over 30% ultra-processed foods in their daily meals.

According to the researchers, this emphasizes the comprehensive adverse effects of diets dominated by inexpensive, attractively promoted, but frequently nutrient-deficient convenience foods.

Ultra-processed foods, as the term implies, undergo extensive manipulation, distancing the final product from its natural origins. They commonly include numerous additional elements, such as sugars, salts, fats, along with synthetic colorants and preservatives.

A previous research paper featured in the Nutrients journal revealed that the ultra-processed food items most often consumed include pre-packaged bread, ready-to-eat meals, breakfast cereals, reprocessed meat products like sausages, and sweet treats like candies and cookies.

However, it’s crucial to note that ultra-processed foods aren’t solely the ones typically associated with junk or fast food. The researchers cautioned that this category could encompass a multitude of industrially produced and extensively refined products that might seem ‘neutral’ or perhaps even ‘healthy’ to an untrained eye.

Such items could include low-calorie carbonated beverages, certain fruit juices, flavoured yoghurts, margarine, heat-and-eat meals, pre-packaged pasta dishes, and other convenience foods like instant scrambled eggs and dehydrated potato mixes.

Lead researcher and nutrition expert, Dr. Melissa Lane from Deakin University, emphasizes that “Depression is one of the most common mental disorders across the globe.”

Depression is a significant health concern as it detrimentally impacts day-to-day living and overall well-being. Symptoms include enduring low energy, alterations in eating and sleeping patterns, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of sadness, and at times, suicidal thoughts.

According to the researcher, understanding the crucial consumption thresholds that could potentially escalate depression risks will empower individuals, health practitioners, and policymakers to make more enlightened decisions regarding dietary habits, healthcare interventions, and public health initiatives.

Through this research, as explained by the author, they aim to enhance mental health promotion and steer initiatives to mitigate the incidence, onset, and severity of depression symptoms within the general population.

In their research, Dr. Lane and her team conducted an in-depth evaluation of the dietary behaviors and mental health status of 23,299 Australians.

Specifically, they focused on identifying potential links between the intake of ultra-processed food and the likelihood of suffering from depression.

The information utilized for this study was gathered via the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, initiated in the early 1990s with the purpose of understanding how diet and various lifestyle elements contribute to the onset of prevalent chronic diseases, especially specific types of cancer.

“Our study comprised people who were initially not taking any medication for depression and anxiety and followed them over 15 years,” points out the author.

The study results do not confirm that the consumption of ultra-processed food directly leads to depression. However, the research indicates a notable link between an elevated consumption of such foods and a heightened probability of developing depressive symptoms.

“Australians who ate the most ultra-processed food had about a 23 percent higher risk of depression compared to those who ate the least amount,” comments the lead researcher.

Taking into account contributing elements such as smoking and lower educational levels, as well as income and physical activity — all of which are typically connected to unfavorable health outcomes — the research reveals a direct correlation between an increased intake of highly processed foods and elevated depression risk.

“While Australians eat a lot of ultra-processed foods, the link with depression has never been assessed in a group of Australians until now.”

The results of study were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Image Credit: Getty

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