Feeling down? So-called comfort eating could make things worse – dpa international


A supermarket in the UK (Simon Roughneen)

For some people, snacking is a way to try cope with negative thoughts or experiences. But binge-eating crisps or chocolate is not only unlikely to help with whatever is getting you down: the habit could in turn be linked to depression.

The American Medical Association has published research by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School associating ultra-processed food (UPF) with depression. The doctors said that although the mechanism associating the food to depression is unknown, there are indications that artificial sweeteners prompt  transmissions in the brain that help depression set in.

The team looked at health data from 2002-2017, covering almost 32,000 middle-aged women who were depression-free at the outset and who consumed food categories such as “ultra-processed grain foods, sweet snacks, ready-to-eat meals, fats and sauces, ultra-processed dairy products, savoury snacks, processed meat, beverages, and artificial sweeteners.”

Around a fifth of the women developed depression over the period, with those comfort eaters who also reported heavy intake of artificial sweeteners  most likely to be affected.

While there is some debate about what constitutes “ultra-processed” food, the Boston-based medics referred to “energy-dense, palatable, and ready-to-eat items.”

A British government missive published in mid-2023 warned against eating too much ultra-processed food, warning that it is “often energy dense, high in saturated fat, salt or free sugars, high in processed meat, and/or low in fruit and vegetables and fibre.”

Other research has linked the consumption of ultra-processed food with deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, the sources of almost all the world’s traded palm oil, which is widely used in food processing.

Critics point out that palm oil is harvested on deforested land, but proponents can counter by saying other oils need more land to generate the same amount of oil.

“Replacing palm oil with rapeseed oil would require a four to five-fold increase in the amount of land needed,” according to a recent report by the University of Göttingen.

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