The New Science on What Ultra-Processed Food Does to Your Brain

Credit: Judy Baxter

Ultra-processed foods may not only affect our bodies, but our brains too.

New research suggests links between ultra-processed foods—such as chips, many cereals and most packaged snacks at the grocery store—and changes in the way we learn, remember and feel. These foods can act like addictive substances, researchers say, and some scientists are proposing a new mental-health condition called “ultra-processed food use disorder.” Diets filled with such foods may raise the risk of mental health and sleep problems.

The science is still early and researchers say there is a lot they don’t know. Not all ultra-processed foods are equal, some scientists say, adding that some might be good for you. A diet high in ultra-processed foods has been linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, but researchers are still figuring out exactly why, beyond calorie counts and nutrient composition.