Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of depression

Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of depression

They are rich in fats, sugars, additives and pollutants, and poor in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that protect against the development of depression. There are plenty of reasons to limit or eliminate the consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of depression

Ultra-processed foods are associated with depressive symptoms among adults, according to data from a national health and nutrition survey conducted in the United States between 2011 and 2016. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, suggests that Ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of depressive symptoms, especially in people who exercise little.

Ultra-processed products are industrial products made mostly or entirely from industrially transformed ingredients, with little or no whole food. They often contain substances that are not used in home cooking, such as refined fats, sugars or synthetic sweeteners, flavor enhancers, preservatives, and other additives.

They may also contain chemical substances from packaging that can have a detrimental effect on the intestinal microbiota and thereby induce the development of diseases associated with inflammation, such as depression.


Typical ultra- processed foods are carbonated beverages, ice cream, baked goods, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products.

Due to its great palatability, comfort and long storage life, ultra-processed products are increasingly consumed in countries with higher incomes. However, from a nutritional point of view they are poor foods: they contain little fiber and a low density of minerals and vitamins.

The 13,637 participants included in the study obtained 55% of their daily calories (an average of 1,200) from processed foods. People with symptoms of depression tended to consume a greater amount of ultra-processed substances and therefore ingested less vitamins and trace elements (omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium and zinc), but more saturated fats , sugars and energy.

In numbers, participants who got more than 73% of their calories from ultra-processed foods had a 35% higher risk of depressive symptoms compared to those in which ultra- processed foods contributed no more than 34% of their total energy intake.


The association between ultra-processed and depression has several explanations. On the one hand, the consumption of ultra-processed foods goes hand in hand with a diet of poor nutritional quality and this, in turn, is a risk factor for depression. As the consumption of ultra-processes increases, the consumption of nutrients such as zinc, iron, copper, selenium, dietary fiber and vitamins, nutrients that are considered protective factors against depression, decreases.

Additionally, food additives and contaminants that are present in ultra-processed foods can contribute to depressive symptoms. Among the contaminants, the study cites phthalates and bisphenols that are used as plasticizers in food packaging.

In a study carried out with Korean adolescents and children, it was observed that the consumption of artificial sweeteners was related to an increase in the proportion of theta and beta waves in the frontocentral areas of the brain, a pattern related to negative emotions that accompany depression.

The adverse effect of UPF on the gut microbiota could also contribute to depressive symptoms. The gut microbiota ferments dietary fiber into short chain fatty acids that are beneficial for normal bowel function. The poor nutritional quality of ultra-processed foods can lead to a reduction in beneficial gut bacteria.

Furthermore, some additives could also affect the composition and function of the gut microbiota. The alteration of the gut microbiota can cause intestinal metabolism disorders and inflammatory disease and then affect the central nervous system through the microbiota-gut-brain axis, increasing the risk of depressive symptoms.


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