Are you depressed? Maybe it’s because of your diet

“Diets based on ultraprocessed foods increase the risk of developing clinical depression (the most severe form of depression) in the future,” concludes a Spanish study recently published in the European Journal of Nutrition. Directed by Professor Miguel Ángel Martínez- González, co-author and promoter of the famous PREDIMED Diet and principal investigator of the CIBEROBN group (Center for Biomedical Research Network, Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition), the work is part of the SUN project of the University of Navarra, which follows tens of thousands of university graduates throughout Spain.

After more than 10 years of following 14,907 graduates of the SUN project who had never had depression when the study began, the CIBEROBN researchers detected 774 new cases of clinical depression during that period. They found that those who ate ultraprocessed foods regularly had a 33% greater risk of developing clinical depression than those who ate few or no such products, and the effect was even greater in those who did less physical activity!

“We cannot forget that ultraprocessed foods are industrial creations made from refined (sugar, starches, vegetable oils, salt) or synthesized (trans fats, hydrolyzed protein, additives) ingredients and that they do not contain any recognizable whole food,” explains Professor Martínez-González, who is also a professor at the University of Navarra and a researcher at Harvard (a real treat for a friend and, for many, one of the world’s most knowledgeable nutrition experts!) “If a food product contains more than 5 ingredients, it will most likely be ultraprocessed,” he adds. “Sugared soft drinks, sausages, sweetened dairy desserts, cookies, industrial baked goods or breakfast cereals are some examples,” he continues, explaining that all of them are characterized:

  1. Because of its low nutritional quality
  2. Their convenience (they are ready to consume at any time, without the need for preparation)
  3. Their availability (you can easily find them in your environment)
  4. Their hyper-palatability (they are extremely tasty)

“One of the worst consequences is that we are moving further and further away from the type of diet we call the traditional Mediterranean Diet, which the SUN study already associated with a lower risk of depression, and the PREDIMED trial, with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer,” Martínez-González points out. “Previous studies of the SUN Project had already seen that ultraprocessed foods also increase the risk of hypertension and obesity”, clarifies Dr. Maira Bes-Rastrollo, senior researcher of the present study. “This new work adds more harmful effects associated with the consumption of these products”.