Brain Health

Why Snacking Can Make You Feel Anxious, Unfocused, And Depressed

Why Snacking Can Make You Feel Anxious, Unfocused, And Depressed about undefined

The typical American diet is full of comfort food. We’re talking about fast food, processed meats, chips, frozen foods like pizzas, and even breakfast cereals and soft drinks.

While they may taste good and even lift your spirits in the short term, in the long term, studies show they’re increasing your risk for everything from heart disease to brain fog and dementia.

What is the problem with our comfort food addiction? Most of these foods are ultra-processed. Research shows that about 75 percent of the foods Americans eat at virtually every meal are ultra-processed foods, which collectively increase the risk of 32 health-damaging severe conditions.

Plus, downing constant helpings of this kind of food and drink shortens your life expectancy.

So, if you want a longer, comfortably healthy life, you need to know what these foods are and how to avoid them.

How Processed Foods Are Slowly Killing You

A study in Italy, for instance, that looked at the health of about 1,200 men and women showed that eating a preponderance of ultra-processed foods raises your risk of an early death from heart disease. 1

Research in Asia that involved about 220,000 people indicated that frequently eating ultra-processed foods increases your risk of chronic kidney disease.2

An extensive review study that analyzed research involving more than 10 million people found that “Overall, direct associations were found between exposure to ultra-processed foods and 32 health parameters spanning mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health outcomes.”3

That means that because food companies and restaurant chains have prioritized profit over health, the foods they sell are nutrient-poor and additive-rich in ways that alter the body’s inner chemistry. Those alterations lead to long-term, chronic health conditions.

By the way, the scientists who conducted the review included the best of the best, with an international consortium of scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia, the Sorbonne University in France, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Our penchant for ultra-processed food is also tearing down our memory.

Ultra-Processed Food Destroys Focus, Memory

A study published in BMC Medicine in 2022 followed over 10,000 participants in Brazil and found that those who consumed more ultra-processed foods showed slightly faster rates of cognitive decline over eight years, including in memory and executive function tests.4

Another study of 72,000 participants in the UK found that those who consumed the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods had a 40 to 66 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who consumed little to no ultra-processed foods.5

Research has shown that ultra-processed foods, which are high in additives and preservatives and low in nutrients, can lead to shorter telomeres - the protective caps on DNA. Shorter telomeres are associated with accelerated aging and an increased risk of degenerative diseases.6

Fried foods, a common ultra-processed item, have been associated with lower memory and cognitive scores in studies of over 18,000 individuals.7

Then there’s its impact on mood…

Comfort Foods Bring Little Comfort

A 2022 study revealed that participants who consumed the most ultra-processed foods, such as baked goods and sodas, were more likely to experience mild depression, which can impact cognitive function.8

Multiple studies confirm that the rate of depression in the United States for all age groups, and especially in younger people, is growing at a truly alarming rate.9 And studies of how ultra-processed food influences this rise show that folks who eat this stuff are more vulnerable to this type of mental distress along with anxiety.

Research in Italy, for example, shows that people who stick closely to a Mediterranean diet—emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and home-cooked meals—enjoy better mental health and less depression than those who buy more packaged foods at the supermarket.10

Why Are Processed Foods So Dangerous?

The dangers of ultra-processed foods involve the techniques food companies employ to transform natural, wholesome foods into processed packaged items: Any dietary fiber that is present is almost always removed, along with health-supporting phytochemicals, vitamins, and enzymes. Then, the food is often pumped full of artificial color, chemical flavorings, and preservatives, along with unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.

The final products, which include donuts, cookies, and frozen meals, are often formulated with combinations of salt, fat, and sweeteners to make them tempting to taste buds and the brain’s reward centers but destructive to the well-being of your inner organs.

Ditching Processed Food

Suppose you want to get healthier by eating less ultra-processed food and more wholesome meals. In that case, experts recommend not going cold turkey all at once and totally omitting your tasty, fast food and packaged food preferences. They believe that a gradual change in your diet is less challenging.

Otherwise, you may start craving your old favorites. In their view, you should begin a slow shift to more fresh fruits and fresh vegetables for meals and snacks. In addition, slowly switch to cooking your own non-packaged foods in your kitchen. Plus, many meal delivery services are available now that will deliver healthy, freshly prepared meals to your door.

And our take on all this is that whatever you need to do to start eating a nutritious diet, you should start as soon as possible. Your health – and even your life – depends on it.

1 Bonaccio M, Costanzo S, Di Castelnuovo A, Persichillo M, Magnacca S, De Curtis A, Cerletti C, Donati MB, de Gaetano G, Iacoviello L. Ultra-processed food intake and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in individuals with cardiovascular disease: the Moli-sani Study. Eur Heart J. 2022 Jan 25;43(3):213-224. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehab783. PMID: 34849691.

2 Xiao B, Huang J, Chen L, Lin Y, Luo J, Chen H, Fu L, Tang F, Ouyang W, Wu Y. Ultra-processed food consumption and the risk of incident chronic kidney disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Ren Fail. 2024 Dec;46(1):2306224. doi: 10.1080/0886022X.2024.2306224. Epub 2024 Feb 12. PMID: 38345016; PMCID: PMC10863522.

3 Lane M M, Gamage E, Du S, Ashtree D N, McGuinness A J, Gauci S et al. Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses BMJ 2024; 384 :e077310 doi:10.1136/bmj-2023-077310


5 University of Florida.

6 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as reported by CNBC.

7 Cambridge University Press.

8 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as reported by CNBC.

9 Goodwin RD, Dierker LC, Wu M, Galea S, Hoven CW, Weinberger AH. Trends in U.S. Depression Prevalence From 2015 to 2020: The Widening Treatment Gap. Am J Prev Med. 2022 Nov;63(5):726-733. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2022.05.014. Epub 2022 Sep 19. PMID: 36272761; PMCID: PMC9483000.

10 Godos J, Bonaccio M, Al-Qahtani WH, Marx W, Lane MM, Leggio GM, Grosso G. Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Depressive Symptoms in a Mediterranean Cohort. Nutrients. 2023 Jan 18;15(3):504. doi: 10.3390/nu15030504. PMID: 36771211; PMCID: PMC9919031.

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