Ultra-processed foods may be to blame

Researchers find US adults who consume more ultra-processed food report more adverse mental symptoms

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. According to a study published in the Journal of Public Health and Nutrition in August 2022, of 10,359 adults 18 and older found those 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.’ Findings are generalisable to the entire U.S. as well as other Western countries like Australia with similar ultra-processed food intakes.

Ultra processed foods have been through extensive processing and includes things like soft drinks, nuggets, hot dogs and sugar cereals. There would be many factors contributing to this results. Here are some:

  1. Nutrient Deficiencies: Ultra-processed foods are deplete of nutrients, if they make up the bulk of your diet, it would eventually result in nutrient deficiencies.
  2. Inflammation: the ingredients in these products cause inflammation in the body, including neuro (brain) inflammation. This includes vegetable/seed oils, hydrogenated oils, sugar and various additives.
  3. Microbiome: these foods adversely affect your microbiome balance (gut bacteria). This can result in reduction in dopamine and serotonin (feel good and happy neurotransmitters in the brain). It may also include digestive symptoms.
  4. Blood sugar balance: these foods which are often high in sugar and carbohydrates which would often result in big blood sugar highs and lows, this tends to make you feel wired and tired and hangry (hungry and angry). This would make you crave more sugar.
  5. Insulin Resistance and weight: these foods are generally very high in calories and these inflammatory ingredients can cause insulin resistance (refer to blood sugar balance above) and weight gain.
  6. Fatty Liver Disease: these foods cause fatty liver disease which would affect your energy and mood and general wellbeing.


For a healthy mood and energy, one of the foundational strategies is to eat a balanced diet of real food. If you need help with this, book a consultation with one of our nutritionists. Book here.

Reference: 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: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220825091343.htm


I also discussed this with Jenny Seaton on Curtin FM Afternoon Show, you can listen here:


Fiona Kane is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Mind Body Eating Coach, Holistic Counsellor, Professional Speaker and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health.


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