By Sally Wadyka, Illustration: Jess Ebsworth, The New York Times, May 18, 2023
Roughly 60 percent of the calories in the average American diet come from highly processed foods. We’ve known for decades that eating such packaged products — like some breakfast cereals, snack bars, frozen meals and virtually all packaged sweets, among many other things — is linked to unwelcome health outcomes, like an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and even cancer. But more recent studies point to another major downside to these often delicious, always convenient foods: They appear to have a significant impact on our minds, too.
Research from the past ten or so years has shown that the more ultraprocessed foods a person eats, the higher the chances that they feel depressed and anxious. A few studies have suggested a link between eating UPFs and increased risk of cognitive decline.
What’s so insidious about these foods, and how can you avoid the mental fallout? Scientists are still working on answers, but here’s what we know so far.