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“The study suggests an association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and depression, with an about 50% higher risk for those consuming 9 portions (per day) or more (the top 20%) compared to those consuming 4 portions or less,” Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of food and nutritional science at the University of Reading in the UK, said in a statement. He was not involved in the study.
Ultraprocessed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, and pleasure foods such as hot dogs, sausages, French fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, doughnuts, ice cream, as well as many more foods and drinks containing artificial sweeteners.
“Our study focused on the link between foods and subsequent risk of developing a new episode of depression,” said study coauthor Dr. Andrew T Chan, a Daniel K. Podolsky professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
“However, there is also the possibility that for individuals with chronic depression, ultraprocessed food can worsen their condition,” said Chan, who is also chief of the clinical and translational epidemiology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
When the researchers looked at specific ultraprocessed foods, also known as UPF’s, only foods and drinks made with artificial sweeteners were associated with an increased risk of depression among the people studied, who were all women, Kuhnle said.
“This is an interesting finding as it suggests the association between UPF intake and depression is driven by a single factor – artificial sweeteners,” he said.