Anxiety and Depression Image

New research shows that highly processed food could be negatively affecting your mental health.

As more research on nutrition comes out, it seems that the old saying “you are what you eat,” may be true. Researchers of a recent study believe that processed foods may not only negatively affect your physical health but also your mental health. Before diving into the recent research let’s review the difference between unprocessed, minimally processed, processed, highly-processed and ultra-processed foods.

Unprocessed, Minimally Processed, Processed, Highly-Processed, and Ultra-Processed Foods

Unprocessed foods have good vitamins and nutrients present in them and the food is in its natural state or very close to it. Some of these foods are called minimally processed because they need to be prepared for eating and storing by boiling, freezing, pasteurization, etc. Some examples of unprocessed or minimally processed foods include raw chicken, apples, carrots, and nuts3.

When a food is processed it is changed from its natural state. This could be done by adding additional ingredients or canning. Some examples of processed food include canned fish, and canned vegetables and fruits. These foods usually have two or three ingredients3.

Lastly, highly or ultra-processed foods contain many added ingredients, artificial colors, and / or preservatives. They are high in sugar, salt, fat, artificial flavors, and starches. Some examples of highly or ultra-processed foods include soda, hot dogs, lunch meats, baked goods, and frozen meals3.

Recent Research

Researchers at Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University studied whether people who eat more ultra-processed foods have negative mental health symptoms. They conducted research on over 10,000 participants who had completed the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between the years of 2007 and 2012. The consumption of ultra-processed food by each participant was calculated and compared with levels of depression and anxiety.1

The researchers found that people who ate more ultra-processed foods were significantly more likely to report depression and anxiety.1 Previous studies have also linked highly processed and ultra-processed foods with negative mental health symptoms. The research on the link between food and mental health continues to grow.

Dr. Eric Hecht, one of the researchers of the study, told Healthline, “Diets high in ultra-processed foods often lack essential nutrients and are high in added sugars, both of which have been found to be associated with adverse mental health symptoms.”2 Dr. Hecht is an advocate of efforts to educate the public on the effects of highly processed foods on both physical and mental health.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that numerous studies have shown that highly processed foods have negative effects on physical health and now also on mental health. You should learn to identify highly processed foods and try to limit them in your diet. Instead, focus on eating unprocessed or minimally processed foods for better physical and mental health.


  1. Hecht, E., Rabil, A., Martinez Steele, E., Abrams, G., Ware, D., Landy, D., & Hennekens, C. (2022). Cross-sectional examination of ultra-processed food consumption and adverse mental health symptoms. Public Health Nutrition, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S1368980022001586
  2. Schimelpfening, N. (2022, August 30). Your favorite snacks may be causing you to feel anxious or depressed. Healthline. Retrieved September 13, 2022
  3. Katherine D. McManus, M. S. (2020, January 9). What are ultra-processed foods and are they bad for our health? Harvard Health. Retrieved September 13, 2022