Now this is fry-tening.
A new study from Chinese researchers found fried potato consumption — namely, french fries — is linked with a 12% increased risk of anxiety and a 7% heightened risk of depression, with young men affected the most.
Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team suspects the culprit is acrylamide, a substance that forms when frying some potato-based foods.
The scientists noted that long-term exposure to acrylamide caused adult zebrafish to “show anxiety and depressive-like behaviors.” The US Food and Drug Administration warns that high levels of acrylamide caused cancer in animals, but the risk to humans is “not clear exactly.”
The authors crunched data from 140,728 UK people over 11 years, excluding those diagnosed with depression within the first two years of the study.
Researchers found consuming fried potatoes had a 2% higher risk of depression compared with eating fried white meat. Overall, 12,735 cases of depression and 8,294 cases of anxiety were identified, with young men often consuming the most fried food.
The findings echo recently published research that determined higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of depression among Brazilian adults.
A separate study published in December identified a link between daily consumption of ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline among adults.
The latest research points to climbing rates of mental health diagnoses. An estimated 21 million US adults experienced at least one “major depressive episode” in 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Despite the staggering results, study author Yu Zhang, from Zhejiang University, told CNN “there is no need to panic about the adverse effects of fried food.”
After all, moderation is key.
But the researchers’ results raised chicken-and-egg skepticism: What comes first, depression or indulgence?
Dr. David Katz, who was not affiliated with the study, suggested that perhaps people already struggling with their mental health are turning to “comfort food” to pacify themselves.
“The human component of this study may indicate just what it purports: that higher intake of fried food increases the risk of anxiety/depression,” the founder of the nonprofit True Health Initiative told CNN.
“However, the causal pathway could just as readily go the other way: people with anxiety/depression turn to ‘comfort food’ with increasing frequency for some semblance of relief.”
But on Tuesday, clinical psychologist and University of Calgary adjunct assistant professor Jonathan Stea tweeted: “I’ve worked in a hospital setting for over a decade helping people who experience severe depression. French fries don’t land people in hospital.
“Science and mental health literacy involves looking beyond hyped-up headlines and understanding that mental illness is multi-causal,” he concluded.