Eating too many French fries could make you anxious or depressed, according to a new study by Chinese researchers on UK eating habits and mental health.
The investigation, led by China's Zhejiang University, looked at more than 140,000 people in the UK over an average period of 11 years to see if they showed symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Attempting to investigate whether poor mental health was a specific risk of the Western diet, the researchers found that those who regularly ate fried food, especially fried potatoes, showed a 12 percent higher risk of anxiety and a 7 percent heightened risk of depression.
The correlation between mental health issues and fried food consumption was highest among young males.
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The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggests that people who ate fried potatoes had a 2 percent higher risk of depression than those who ate fried white meat, like fried chicken.
The experts say that acrylamide – a chemical that can form when cooking starchy foods like potatoes at high-temperatures – could be directly related to inflammation in the brain.
"Western dietary patterns have been unfavorably linked with mental health," the authors said.
The results of the study, they added, provided "strong evidence to unravel the mechanism of acrylamide-triggered anxiety and depression, and highlight the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health."
While the study shows a direct link between eating fried foods and mental health issues, it didn't prove that consuming fried products directly caused anxiety and depression.
That means it's not clear whether people are more likely to develop anxiety and depression disorders from eating fried foods, or if they eat fried foods because they felt anxious and depressed.
And in spite of the worrying correlations, one of the study's authors, Yu Zhang, told CNN that there was "no need to panic about the adverse effects of fried food."
Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior lecturer at the UK's Aston Medical School added that overall, the study did not change the evidence that "a healthy diet based on plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses and moderate amounts of other foods was associated with better mental and physical health."
The Chinese research is not the first to show a link between fried food and mental health issues.
A 2016 study analyzing eating patterns and the mental health of 715 Japanese workers found that there was a "significant positive indirect association" between eating fried foods and experiencing depression.
Anxiety and depression is Britain's most common mental disorder, according to the UK's Mental Health Foundation, with nearly one in 10 people meeting the criteria for diagnosis.
Over 8 million people in the UK are thought to experience an anxiety disorder at any one time, while around 4 to 10 percent of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
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