Keywords: Fast foods, Junk foods, Trans fat, saturated fats, micronutrients, macronutrients, mental health, gut-brain connection, sodium benzoate, gut bacteria, neurotransmitters.
Fast Foods Harm Your Brain. What is the meaning of fast foods? How does food affect the brain? Fast food and mental health issues. How can the brain be protected?
It is a known fact that what we eat affects the brain and other parts of the human anatomy. This is why some people say that you are what you eat.
There is what is called gut brain connection. This means that what we eat finds its way from the abdomen to the brain, to affect brain functions.
So when we eat right, the brain functions optimally. But when we eat the wrong foods, the brain suffers. Then when the brain suffers, one can break down with mental health issues.
Fast foods are now the frequently consumed foods globally. This is because fast foods are easily available, has good taste and they are cheap to buy. In as much as it is food on the go, it comes with its negative health and mental health issues. Thus the topic, fast foods harm the brain.
What is the meaning of fast foods?
Fast foods also known as junk foods are foods quickly prepared and eaten. They are made from processed foods which are high in macronutrients. These macronutrients include sugar, trans fats saturated fats and salt.
Trans fats come about when liquid oil is processed into solid fats, while saturated fats come from animal foods source. These are the worst types of fat when it comes to health issues.
Also high in fast foods and soft drinks, is sodium benzoate. This is a food preservative that is also harmful to mental health.
Then fast foods are low in micronutrients. The examples of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. These micronutrients are destroyed when the foods undergo processing.
Most often, fast foods are not an everyday kind of home cooking. Fast food are made and sold in restaurants and fast food joints. And examples include foods from processed wheat flour such as cakes, bread, biscuits, rolls, pizza, etc.
There are also processed meats such as sausage meat, bacon, hot dogs, ham, etc. There are also deep fried foods, doughnuts, plantain chips, fried potatoes or French fries, chicken, etc. Products from cocoa, such as chocolate are included.
How does food affect the brain?
There is a connection between the brain and the gut (stomach and the intestines). This is called the gut-brain connection.
The gut-brain connection, links the parts of the brain that are responsible for emotions and cognition to the intestines. It is actually a two way action. That means the effects from the intestines to the brain and from the brain to the intestines. And mediating these interactions are the natural bacteria present in the intestines.
From the gut to the brain:
These intestinal bacteria are responsible for brain development and the production of certain neurotransmitters. The bacteria influence the production of new brain cells and they can affect aging of the brain cells. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in the brain that brain cells use to communicate with each other. So these gut bacteria affect these brain neurochemistry.
The areas of the brain mainly affected by the bacteria are involved in thinking, memory and mood.
These gut bacteria can affect the brain via different methods, which are quite complex. But one way is via its effect on how much nutrients are absorbed from the intestines. The brain needs micronutrients absorbed from the intestines to function effectively. These micronutrients are calcium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin Bs, biotin, vitamin A, omega 3, etc. And these micronutrients help the brain cells to grow and communicate.
The gut bacteria are influenced by environmental factors and life style. Any factor that disrupts the normal intestinal bacteria can predispose to depression and behavioural issues.
From the brain to the gut:
From the other direction, stressors can affect the amount of gut bacteria. Even, just 2 hours of stress can reduce the gut bacteria. Also certain neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine that comes with stress, can lead to the production of bad gut bacteria. Diet can impact these.
So, up to 95% of serotonin, the neurotransmitter in the brain is produced in the intestines by these bacteria. Serotonin improves mood. Also other neurotransmitters are produced in the intestines by these bacteria, eg. acetylcholine , GABA, etc.
Effects of food:
Good food, which is high in nutrients, enables the intestine to produce serotonin. On the other hand, processed foods prevent the production of serotonin in the intestines. This is because the good food leads to the production of good bacteria, while fast food reduces good bacteria.
Thus low good gut bacteria can predispose one to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.
Eating processed foods that contain high sugar, can cause inflammation in the brain cells. This inflammatory process can cause destroy the brain cells and cause mental health conditions.
Fast food and mental health issues.
As already stated fast food or junk food negatively affects mental health. Junk foods can prevent the production and functioning of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
This can predispose mental health conditions. This is how fast foods harm the brain.
And they do this via their effects on the brain cells and their effects on the neurochemicals of the brain.
In the general population:
Fast food can get the person who takes it, addicted to it. This is just like drug addiction. The high sugar contained in fast foods gives the person eating it quick energy which lasts only a short while. Once the sugar level drops, the person experiences what is called a crash. Having this energy crash, the person will take in more junk food to increase the energy again.
Eating junk food often will suppress the action of dopamine in the brain. When this happens, the brain will now rely on sugar in order to function, instead of relying on dopamine. This is how addiction forms.
In adults or the elderly, it can predispose them to dementia.
Effects on the adolescents:
Effects on the adolescents:
Fast foods harm the brain of adolescents. When adolescents consume junk foods it predisposes them to psychiatric issues just like in the general population. And because their brain is still in the developing stage, the harmful effects are more. This is because adolescents are more sensitive to processed food, than other age groups.
The part of the adolescent brain that is worse hit by junk food is the prefrontal cortex. This brain area does not fully mature until the person is in their 20s. This area of the brain is for maths problem solving, judgment, etc.
When adolescents take junk foods, they block the proper development of the brain.
Consuming sweets and snacks can also predispose adolescents to violent behaviours such as fighting. These foods inhibit the processing of information in the brain. And these children will have problems with concentrating in school.
So junk foods reduce their ability to learning and remember and can it can predispose them to being impatient.
The impatient effect is due to the high sugar content. It is also due to the content of sodium benzoate in these foods and drinks. So, for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), junk or fast foods are not advised.
Unfortunately, these adolescents will combine these foods with soft drinks, making their matters worse. These can increase stress, depression, suicidal behaviuors, etc.
Adolescents even eat snacks while studying to keep them awake. This will actually adversely affect their mood, concentration and learning. And this makes the whole process of learning futile.
How can the brain be protected?
Keeping away from fast foods is the best option. But for those who cannot keep away, junk foods are okay occasionally.
By occasionally, it means that fast foods should not be taken more than once in a week. It is actually the frequency that matters. The less regular one eats fast foods the better for the mental health.
We should also understand that healthy eating can improve some of the symptoms of mental illness. Drinking plenty of water during the day is very important, because water is needed to make neurotransmitters.
Also, we should know that our eating habits can affect our sleep, which can then affect mental health. Thus it is advisable that one eats night meals 2 to 3 hours before going to bed.
Eating foods rich in omega 3 from fish, nuts, etc. is good for the brain. Omega 3 holds the brain cells together and helps them to communicate with each other. It also helps to increase attention, while it reduces hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours. Academics is also improved.
Exercise is very important. This is because it makes fast foods less appetizing and protects the brain from the damage caused by fast foods.
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