Ultra-processed foods linked to poorer brain health

May 23, 2023—People who eat diets high in ultra-processed foods, such as packaged cereals, frozen meals, and sweets, may have a higher chance of feeling depressed and anxious than those who eat fewer of these foods—and they may also have an increased risk of cognitive decline.

Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among the experts quoted in two May 4 New York Times articles on the latest evidence. “The vast majority of [ultra-processed foods] are unhealthy, and the more of them you eat, the higher your risk of various diseases,” he said.

Researchers quoted in the article suggested that ultra-processed foods may contribute to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to multiple mental and physical issues. Eating an otherwise healthy diet such as the MIND diet may counteract the negative effects of ultra-processed foods, according to the article.

Hu added, “Diet does influence mood, but the reverse is also true. When you get stressed, anxious or depressed, you tend to eat more unhealthy foods, in particular ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar, fatand chemical additives.”

Read the New York Times articles:
The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health
Do You Know How to Spot Foods That Are Ultraprocessed?

Learn more
Processed Foods and Health (Harvard Chan School’s The Nutrition Source)
Ultra-processed foods are recipe for poorer health (Harvard Chan School News)