Not only can highly processed foods such as frozen meals contribute to weight problems and cardiovascular disease, they are also associated with a significantly increased risk of depression. Artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened drinks in particular seem to play an important role.
A study involving experts from Harvard Medical School examined the prospective association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and their components with the risk of depression. The results are published in the specialist journal “JAMA Network Open”.
Nutrition assessed by 31,712 women
The team used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II for the research. This included women aged 42 to 62 who were free of dementia at the start of the study. The diet of the 31,712 participants was assessed every four years using validated questionnaires.
Negative effects of processed foods
It was found that participants with a high consumption of ultra-processed foods had a higher BMI, a higher smoking rate and a higher prevalence of comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia. In addition, the women affected rarely exercised regularly.
Significantly increased risk of depression
In total, almost 7,000 cases of depression occurred among the participants. Women who had the highest intake of ultra-processed foods had a significantly increased risk of depression compared to participants with the lowest intake.
When the experts analyzed the connection between specific components of ultra-processed foods and the risk of depression, they found that artificially sweetened drinks and artificial sweeteners in particular were associated with a higher risk of depression.
Thus, taken together, the results suggest that higher intake of ultra-processed foods, particularly artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened beverages, is associated with an increased risk of depression, the team reports.
Nutrition influences well-being
According to psychologist Dr. According to Susan Albers of the Cleveland Clinic in the USA, the study results are not really a surprise, as there is a clear connection between mood and food consumed. Nutrition plays an important role in well-being.
This is how ultra-processed foods work
The doctor, who was not involved in the study, reports in a recent press release that ultra-processed foods trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, which provides motivation and feelings of happiness. According to the expert, this is the reason why we like to consume such unhealthy foods so much.
The link between consumption of ultra-processed foods, particularly those containing artificial sweeteners, and increased risk of depression appears to be related to how artificial sweeteners affect the brain, says Dr. Albers.
Choose healthy alternatives
In general, the psychologist advises avoiding the consumption of packaged snacks. Instead, to limit the consumption of ultra-processed foods, preference should be given to fruits or nuts.
When shopping, you should also read product labels carefully to identify ultra-processed foods, although unpronounceable ingredients can be a warning sign, adds the doctor. (as)