What Is The Link Between Highly Processed Foods And Depression?

According to new study results, women who eat many ultra-processed foods and drinks are more likely to develop depression. This article examines the science behind this claim and what it means for your health.

How Was The Study Conducted?

For the study, researchers looked at data from dietary questionnaires completed by almost 32,000 women between 2003 and 2017. At the start of the study, participants ranged from ages 42 to 62, with none having a history of depression.

During the study period, over 2,100 people developed depression, as determined by prescriptions for antidepressants and a clinical diagnosis. Under a broader definition, which includes people who reported either antidepressant use or a formal diagnosis, a total of 4,849 participants developed depression during the study’s duration.

In the study results published in JAMA Network Open, it was discovered that participants who consumed the largest quantity of ultra-processed foods were 49 percent more likely to suffer depression under the stricter definition. According to the broader definition, 34 percent were likely to experience this mental health condition.

What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ultra-processed foods consist mainly of substances extracted from foods, such as oils, sugars, starches, and proteins.

Do Artificially Sweetened Drinks Increase Depression Risk?

To assess which ultra-processed foods had the most impact on depression risk, researchers examined several categories, such as grains and cereals, beverages, and artificial sweeteners.

It was discovered that individuals who consumed the most artificially sweetened beverages were 37 percent more likely to develop depression during the study. The analysis also revealed that participants who ate the most foods with artificial sweeteners had a 26 percent higher depression risk.

That said, the study also discovered that people who limited their consumption of ultra-processed foods were 16 percent less likely to develop depression.

Does The Research Have Limitations?

The study’s results accounted for multiple factors that could independently be linked with increased depression risk, including the possibility for people who consume lots of ultra-processed foods to have obesity or a less-active lifestyle.

However, Duane Mellor, RD, PhD, said it’s still possible that the results of this investigation were influenced by factors the researchers didn’t measure, particularly concerning the connection between depression and obesity.

Another limitation of the study is that it depended on participants to accurately remember and report their eating habits and mental health diagnoses rather than objectively measuring what they ate or reviewing medical records to verify if they had depression.


According to the study, consuming ultra-processed foods can increase depression risk. However, more research needs to be conducted to reach a definite conclusion.