Moody teens? Ultra Processed Foods (UPF) may be the culprit

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Posted on: 31 Jan 2024

What is ‘UPF’?

UPF is short for ‘Ultra-Processed Food’. Ultra-processed food are foods containing preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, sweetners, colouring and flavouring. Another way to spot UPF is that they can be on the shelf for a long time. Some examples of the ingredients to look out for on the labels include gum, lecithin, carrageenan, cellulose, aspartame, steviol, yellow 5, red 40,  blue 1, annatto, spirulina, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and 621. With industrialisation of our food production and the globalisation of food distribution, UPF has become more prevalent across the globe.

What is the connection between depression and UPF?

Increasing amounts of research has emerged recently to demonstrated the possible connection between mental health those who consume large and frequent amounts of UPF.  This is especially valid for young adults who are developing both physically and cognitively, as this is a time when we want to maximize nutrients. Ideally we want to avoid any hormone disrupters and ensure the macro and micro nutrients are optimal to support growth and brain development. Whole foods help teenagers to thrive physically and mentally and they also help repair stress-related cell damage.

Should I give my children packed lunches?

I recommend what works best for your family’s time and resources. Most school cafeterias in Singapore provide whole food-based options. Provide opportunities to prepare food together as family activities can be a great way to increase the intake and awareness of the sources of our food. Adolescents are keenly aware of the environmental impacts of the food mileage and energy cost from the processing and storage. It can be a good reason to incentivise them to avoid UPF.

Key Take-away’s:

  1. Eat whole foods in its original form as often as possible
  2. When eating out, support products and restaurants which source local and fresh ingredients
  3. Avoid long shelf-life stable items to reduce the number of preservatives and stabilizers in your food
  4. Cook together as a family and develop skills and interests with nourishing choices

Keng-I Lin (Sophia) is a Taiwanese and USA-trained dietician which many years of experience in guiding patients towards healthful eating. If you would like to book an appointment with Sophia – please book here.  

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