Does Comfort Food Really “Comfort” You?

Does Comfort Food Really “Comfort” You? about undefined
If you reach for a sweet or savory treat when you’re feeling down, you’re not alone.

From cookies and ice cream to burgers and fries, comfort food sounds, well, comfortable. But comfort foods usually have one thing in common: They’re high-fat, high-sugar, and high-carbohydrate.

It’s not exactly news that those delectable, sugar-laden, deep-fried foods are doing you no favors in the health department.

We’ve reported how fried fare is linked to an increased risk of dying from heart problems.1 And a growing body of research suggests that a steady diet of fried foods is associated with diabetes, cancer, and more. Now a new study finds that fried foods can also have a negative impact on more than your physical well-being.2 It turns out that regularly noshing on fried comfort foods doesn’t lift your mood after all.

Researchers at the St. Louis School of Medicine at Washington analyzed data on the mental health and eating patterns of 140,728 people over a period of 11 years.

They discovered that people who followed a steady diet of fried foods – especially fried potatoes – had a 12 percent higher risk of anxiety and a seven percent higher risk of depression when compared to people who avoided fried foods.

How Fried Foods Promote Anxiety and Depression

It’s important to note that the researchers didn’t prove that eating fried foods actually caused depression and anxiety. However, they did find that eating fried foods was “strongly associated” with poor mental health due to acrylamide, a chemical that’s formed in the high-temperature frying process.

Acrylamide forms from the combination of super-heated sugars and an amino acid protein naturally present in food. Some once believed that this toxic chemical could come from food packaging or even the environment, but that’s not true.

Studies show that acrylamide triggers neuroinflammation, problems with lipid (fat) metabolism, nervous system disorders and even cancer, all of which can impact mental health.3 “These results both epidemiologically and mechanistically, provide strong evidence to unravel the mechanism of acrylamide-triggered anxiety and depression, and highlight the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health,” the researchers concluded.

The Problem of Trans-Fats

Others say the link between fried foods and mental health struggles could be the high trans-fat content in many ultra-processed foods. This type of fat has been associated with inflammation, which has been associated with mood disorders.

Jessica Cording, a nutritionist and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers, says that at a basic level, a steady diet of fried foods can make anyone feel off.

“Fried foods promote oxidative stress, and that can impact your gut microbiome,” she writes.

So, when your gut is roiling from fried food overload, that will likely impact how you feel emotionally.

There’s also the question of which came first—anxiety and depression or fried food consumption.

Chicken or the Egg… Which Came First?

Another issue is that the researchers didn’t discover whether people were more likely to develop anxiety and depression from eating fried foods or if they ate fried foods because they were feeling anxious and depressed.

Experts say it could be a chicken or egg scenario.

Hillary Ammon, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist who was not involved in the study, explains the nuances.

“It may be difficult to fully control for this variable when studying the relationship between food and mood,” says Professor Ammon.4 “In some instances, the fried foods could have led to an increase in anxiety and depression. Yet, there may be people who were struggling with anxiety or depression prior to eating fast foods routinely.”

Our takeaway

Just like most of us I’d like to reach for something sweet or savory when I’m feeling down, but I agree with the researchers… after eating fried foods, you don’t really feel better. If they’re not helping, it’s best to avoid them. And that holds true whether you’re feeling overwhelmed or mentally healthy. As we mentioned, the science is clear about the link between fried foods and heart disease or illnesses like cancer.

Instead, focus on eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods. And now and then, treat yourself to a modest amount of your favorite comfort food. Consider it an occasional treat rather than a daily staple.

To reduce your acrylamide intake, opt for baking or boiling potatoes. Or, if you can’t stand another day without French fries, try an air fryer that produces less of the toxic chemical.5 Additionally, it’s best to steer clear of certain oils, such as palm oil, cottonseed oil, or vegetable oil, which are high in trans-fats and saturated fats. Instead, reach for olive oil or coconut oil. When frying, coconut oil is better than olive oil at maintaining its integrity at high temperatures.

Best Regards,
The Aging Defeated Team
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