When comfort food doesn't really comfort you


You may be tempted to reach out for your favourite comfort food when you're feeling down, but research indicates that you may be making yourself feel worse if that food is of the ultra-processed variety. — TNS

For some people, so-called comfort eating is a way to try to cope with negative emotions.

But binging on snacks or chocolate is not only unlikely to help with whatever is getting you down, the habit could also in turn be linked to depression.

The American Medical Association has published research by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in the United States, which suggests that ultra-processed food is associated with increased risk of depression.

The doctors said that although the mechanism associating ultra-processed food to depression is unknown, there are indications that artificial sweeteners prompt certain transmissions in the brain that contribute to depression setting in.

ALSO READ: Are artificial sweeteners really better than sugar?

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

Around a fifth of the women developed depression over the period of the study, with those also reporting heavy intake of artificial sweeteners seemingly most likely to be affected, according to the paper published in September (2023).

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 mid-2023 warned against eating too much ultra-processed food, which London said 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”. – dpa

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