Junk Food and Mental Health

Would it surprise you to know that a diet rich in junk food makes for an increase in the occurrence of mental disorders? This is the latest research emerging from the Annual Society for Neuroscience Conference in California. But it hardly needs to be spelled out to us that eating too much junk food is not only bad for the way our bodies look, but also how our brains work.. It’s yet another case of garbage in, garbage out.

But just to let the scientists have their fifteen minutes of fame, let’s take note that researchers found that rats fed on the rodent equivalent of junk food took longer to remember information that had already been learned. They also spent more time trying to escape from a maze than they did when compared to the same rats fed on a healthy, wholesome diet.

If eating junk food affects the thinking capacity of a rat, the equivalent action on the human brain is of great concern. The human brain is a veritable glutton in terms of energy needs, with well over 50% of the food we consume dedicated to keeping this highly-complex organ working in tip-top condition. Start taking away valuable nutrients on a regular basis by eating junk food more than one a week, and the working capacity of the brain is severely compromised.

Highly processed foods such as bakery goods contain large amounts of trans-fatty acids which not only lead to obesity but impede information transmission in the brain via neurotransmitter pathways. Trans-fatty acids have also been shown in initial studies to be implicated in mental disorders such as ADHD, autism, Asperger’s disorder, and dyslexia.

Because our brains are comprised of almost 60% fat, it makes sense to ensure that we keep our intake of trans-fatty acids to a minimum. The old wives’ tale of fish being the best brain food has been borne out by research, and oily fish (such as sardines, salmon, and tuna) are high in omega-3 fatty acids which keep the blood supply to the brain at optimal levels, assisting with memory retention and staving off dementia.

So to best make your way around the maze of life, try to keep junk food to a minimum. Your children may escape developmental problems such as ADHD, and you will minimize your own chances of developing mental degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s in your latter years. And right now, a good diet will enhance every aspect of your life, from the way you look, to the way you handle stress. With more wholesome food, the maze of life could become more of a walk in the park!

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