Bad news for people who love fried food: French fries are not only bad for your physical health, but detrimental to your mental well-being as well, according to new research.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers found a link between eating fried potatoes and having anxiety or depression after analyzing data collected from more than 140,000 fried food-consuming people over 11 years.
Does that mean we should cut French fries from our diet altogether? Probably not. The results are still preliminary, and the exact links between the two are still not entirely understood. But they do suggest that fried foods may have a negative impact on your mental health.
The data — which comes courtesy of the UK Biobank, a large-scale database that contains health information from half a million UK participants — was analyzed by researchers in Hangzhou, China, who found that eating fried potatoes was linked with a 12 percent increase in the risk of anxiety and a 7 percent increase in the risk of depression.
The researchers' theory is that the effect could be due to acrylamide, a chemical that's created during the frying process. The scientists wrote that zebrafish exposed to the chemical exhibited what might be the fish version of depression and anxiety: hiding in dark corners, reticence to explore their tanks, and secluding themselves from socializing.
While these findings are intriguing, they should be taken with a huge grain of salt, much like delicious French fries. For one, zebrafish are extremely different organisms than humans.
Besides, as always, it's important to remember that correlation does not imply causation.
"The human component of this study may indicate just what it purports: that higher intake of fried food increases the risk of anxiety/depression," David Katz, a Connecticut-based lifestyle medicine specialist, 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.
In short, the study's results are preliminary and even the paper's authors are pointing out that they don't necessarily mean we should stop eating French fries immediately.
Paper co-author Yu Zhang of Zhejiang University admitted to CNN that "there is no need to panic about the adverse effects of fried food."
"If a takeaway is needed it is simply that overall diet quality, and the selection of wholesome foods, matters profoundly to every aspect of health — mental and physical alike," Katz told CNN.
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