Ultra-Processed Foods May Play a Part in Feeling Anxious

Although ultra-processed foods are convenient, low cost, quick to prepare or ready-to-eat, these industrial formulations of processed food substances contain little or no whole food. They result from extensive ‘physical, biological, and chemical processes’ that create food products that are deficient in original and natural food. 

Researchers explored a nationally representative sample of the United States population to determine if individuals who consume high amounts of ultra-processed foods report significantly more adverse mental health symptoms including depression, anxiety and mentally unhealthy days.

They measured mild depression, number of mentally unhealthy days and number of anxious days in 10,359 adults 18 and older from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Results of the study showed that individuals who consumed the most ultra-processed foods as compared with those who consumed the least amount had statistically significant increases in the adverse mental health symptoms of mild depression, “mentally unhealthy days” and “anxious days.” They also had significantly lower rates of reporting zero “mentally unhealthy days” and zero “anxious days.”

“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,” said Eric Hecht, M.D., Ph.D. “More than 70 percent of packaged foods in the U.S. are classified as ultra-processed food and represent about 60 percent of all calories consumed by Americans. Given the magnitude of exposure to and effects of ultra-processed food consumption, our study has significant clinical and public health implications.”


Eric M Hecht, Anna Rabil, Euridice Martinez Steele, Gary A Abrams, Deanna Ware, David C Landy, Charles H Hennekens. Cross-sectional examination of ultra-processed food consumption and adverse mental health symptoms. Public Health Nutrition, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1368980022001586

Florida Atlantic University. “Feeling anxious or blue? Ultra-processed foods may be to blame: Researchers find U.S. adults who consume more ultra-processed food report more adverse mental symptoms.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 August 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220825091343.htm>.

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