Most folks would agree that fries are a yummy comfort food. But those golden tidbits are probably not helping us to feel any happier. On the contrary, a new study by researchers at Zhejiang University in China shows that bingeing on fried foods, particularly French fries, might not be good for our mental health. It can worsen depression and anxiety.
The researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing data from more than 140,000 people over 11 years old that they gathered from the UK Biobank, a large-scale medical database and research resource that contains in-depth genetic and health information from half a million UK participants. The data the Chinese researchers used included fried food consumption and the incidence of anxiety and depression during an average follow-up period of 11.3 years.
By the end of the study period, they had identified nearly 8,300 cases of anxiety and over 12,700 cases of depression. The team found that participants consuming more than one serving of fried food per day were 12 percent more likely to experience anxiety-related issues; they also had a 7 percent greater risk of depression than people who usually passed on fried foods.
If you want to improve your mental health, as well as your physical health, consider reducing the consumption of fried food.
These results, the researchers point out, “open an avenue in the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health.” In other words, it seems possible that reducing the consumption of fried foods could be helpful for mental health in addition to overall health.
The results suggest that a chemical formed during the frying process, especially in fried potatoes — acrylamide — may be the mechanism behind the higher risk of anxiety and depression. The researchers came to this hypothesis after studying the effects of acrylamide on zebrafish.
Exposure to acrylamide prompted the fish to lie in the tank’s dark zones, which is often a sign of anxiety in fish. Also, zebrafish that were exposed to the toxic chemical didn’t explore their tanks or socialize with other zebrafish the way they typically would, the researchers said, another signal that they could be feeling depressed.
When it comes to humans, however, the relationship may work the other way: It could be that people with underlying symptoms of depression and anxiety could turn to comfort foods, such as French fries, as a way of self-medicating. Still, the research highlights the importance of raising awareness about the potential downside of consuming fried food, especially among younger people.
The study is published in PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.