Eating too many chips and fry-ups could make you anxious or depressed, a study suggests.
Researchers looked at more than 140,000 people in the UK, who filled out a questionnaire on what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours, up to four times.
These people were followed up for an average of 11 years to see if they showed symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Those who said they ate at least one portion of fried food, suggesting this was a typical part of their diet, were 12 per cent more likely to have anxiety than those who ate no fried food.
They were seven per cent more likely to show signs of depression.
Researchers looked at more than 140,000 people in the UK, who filled out a questionnaire on what they had eaten in the previous 24 hours, up to four times
Experts suspect acrylamide – the chemical substance formed when starchy foods, such as potatoes, are fried and baked at high temperatures – may be linked to inflammation in the brain.
Fried potatoes, including chips, and fried white meat, such as chicken, were significantly linked with anxiety.
The study, led by Zhejiang University in China, concludes that its results ‘highlight the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health’.
The authors note: ‘Diet has recently been linked with the risk of developing depression and anxiety.
‘A Western diet of fried or processed foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer is associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety.
‘Typically, fried foods are major part of the Western diet, and the consumption of fried foods increases worldwide, especially during the Covid outbreak.’
Men and younger people are more likely to frequently eat fried food, the study found.
The link between the food and depression and anxiety was found most strongly in men and those below the age of 60.
Researchers looked at middle-aged people from the UK Biobank study, who were asked to fill out questionnaires on their dietary habits and mental state.
The results separate out both fried white meat, like chicken, and fried potatoes, which would include fries and chips.
People who reported eating at least one portion of either fried potatoes or fried white meat in the food questionnaire had a four per cent higher risk of having symptoms of anxiety.
Fried potatoes, like chips, were linked to a smaller two per cent higher risk of depression.
The study exposed zebrafish to acrylamide to try to understand the effect this chemical may have in people who eat fried food.
The fish showed behaviours similar to anxiety and depression, such as avoiding others more often and being less exploratory.
Acrylamide, also found in burnt toast, has previously been linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease.
The animal experiments provide evidence that the chemical may affect how the body regulates cholesterol, which could be linked to anxiety and depression.
It may also cause inflammation in the brain, which could influence someone’s mental state.
Fried foods in general, which included breaded and battered fish, doughnuts and crisps, were significantly linked to a seven per cent higher risk of anxiety symptoms in men – a greater link than was seen in women.
In 2022/23, an average of 37 per cent of women and almost 30 per cent of men reported high levels of anxiety, while up to 10 per cent of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
Dr Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian, from Aston University, said: ‘It is possible that people who consume more fried foods may have other risk factors which increase their risk of mental health problems.’
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide