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Ultra-processed Food and Mental Health

Sometimes poor eating habits become a vicious cycle. We’re anxious, disappointed, or sad about something so we “treat ourselves” to a bag of chips or a big candy bar.

We’re not really hungry, we’re just feeding an emotion. But that habit of grabbing processed food when we’re feeling blue may exacerbate those negative feelings, especially anxiety, and depression.

What is processed food?

In theory, any food that ends up in the grocery store goes through some processing. This can include food that was simply cut, washed, heated, pasteurized, canned, cooked, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed, or packaged.

Ultra-processed food includes foods that are typically the result of intensive manufacturing processes. They’re made from foods plus additives and may not contain much of the original whole food.

Too much ultra-processed food has been found to raise the risk of heart disease, obesity, and certain cancers.

How to Kick the Processed Problem

Start your day with a solid meal, not a bar or fast food sandwich. Peanut butter on toast, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese with fruit, or a hard-boiled egg with crackers are good starters.

Keep seasonal fruits and veggies on hand and include at least one in each meal and snack.

Do Meatless Monday more often. Canned beans or lentils make quick meals when you’re in a hurry. Skip fast food when possible.

Take inventory of your pantry. How frequently do chips, cookies, or other processed snacks end up on the shelves?

Don’t shop when you’re hungry, upset, or stressed out. You’re more likely to pick up snacks or “comfort” foods.

Ignore coupons for boxed pastry mixes or other processed foods that you normally wouldn’t buy.

Get your ZZZs. Poor sleep raises cortisol levels, increasing cravings for salt, fat, and sugar. Aim for 7 to 8 hours per night. 8

Learn to deal with stress and anxiety in healthy ways. Exercise, meditate, journal, or seek a mental health professional if needed.

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See you for our next blog post!

DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is for informational purposes and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any illness. Consult a physician before taking any action.

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