We are in an era where health-conscious people are increasingly conscious of every grain they consume, yet instances of heart strokes and spikes in sugar levels continue to afflict us.
Processed food is often linked to cardiovascular ailments, rise in cholesterol levels and mental health struggles.
According to a study by a US-based non-profit organisation, Sapiens Labs, regular consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods can lead to a three-fold decline in mental health compared to those who never or rarely consume it.
“There is some controversy on how to properly define UPFs. The simple rule of thumb is that if it contains ingredients you don’t have and processing that you can’t do in a home kitchen, then it probably qualifies,” neuroscientist Tara Thiagarajan, founder of Sapiens Labs, was quoted as saying in a report.
It adds that India is one of the fastest-growing markets for ultra-processed foods, with WHO recording that the sector grew at a compound annual growth rate of 13.37% in retail sales value between 2011 to 2021.
It’s anticipated that UPFs will grow faster than both India’s GDP growth which will also lead to a spurt in consumptions of essential food items.
Back to the current study that links these foods to a range of mental health parameters.
“The study looks at the complete profile of symptoms on a continuum. While it also indicates that depression symptoms get worse with higher frequency of UPF consumption, we show there is a continuum of degradation across all domains of mental function beyond depression, in particular with the ability to regulate your thoughts and emotions,” Thiagarajan said.
The study also found the pattern of decline in mental wellbeing with frequency of UPF intake across gender, income and age groups, and was independent of the frequency of exercise.
“This suggests a causal relationship,” the study said. “The breadth and nature of symptoms suggests that ultra-processed food may mediate a widespread physiological dysregulation of mental processes. UPFs may be a substantial driver of the growing mental health burden, particularly in young adults aged 18-24, who are twice as likely to consume such food daily compared to adults 45 and older.”