A study by researchers in Hangzhou, China, has found that frequent consumption of fried foods, particularly fried potatoes, is linked to a 12% higher risk of anxiety and a 7% higher risk of depression. The study evaluated 140,728 people over 11.3 years and found that those consuming more than one serving of fried food regularly were more likely to be younger men. The researchers compared the effects of fried food consumption in humans and acrylamide exposure in zebrafish to suggest that frequent consumption of the chemical commonly found in fried food could have a negative effect on mental health. The study also found that the link was more pronounced among young men and younger consumers.

However, experts in nutrition have warned that the results are preliminary and that it is not necessarily clear whether fried foods are driving mental health issues or whether people experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety turn to fried foods as a form of self-medication. Dr. David Katz, a lifestyle medicine specialist, said that while the results of the study may indicate that a higher intake of fried food increases the risk of anxiety and depression, the causal pathway could just as readily go the other way. Nevertheless, the study’s findings “open an avenue for the significance of reducing fried food consumption for mental health,” according to the paper published in the journal PNAS. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing consumption of fried foods may be helpful for mental health as well as overall health, the researchers said. A lack of variety in food has also been shown to decrease well-being.