The Worst Part of Eating Junk Food Isn't Getting Fatby Carissa Andrews - November 30th, 2015
You and I both know moderation is key when it comes to eating the foods we crave, but know aren't good for us. However, did you know there's more to fear from your favorite guilty pleasure than just gaining weight? Studies are finding links between a diet high in junk food to problems with energy, memory, and even brain density. All of this spells disaster as we age; eventually causing mental conditions, disorders, and possibly linked to cancer, Alzheimer's, and dementia.
Yep, you read that right. Your junk food is messing big time with your mind; and we're not talking about the science behind making you crave more. We're talking your everyday, need-to-use-my-brain functions.
This Is Your Brain On Junk
Most of us remember the old ad campaign connecting a brain on drugs to a scrambled or fried egg. The truth of the matter is, a brain on junk isn't too far off from that analogy either. In fact, according to a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, just 5 days of indulging in junk has a detrimental cognition affect on attention, speed, and mood. Think about that as we head into the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, where yummy, albeit unhealthy trends are abundant.
Toxic fatsBy consuming trans fats (also known as hydrogenated oils or interesterified oils), you're putting your brain at risk for sending mixed and damaging signals to the brain and lessening its ability to control appetite. So not only does eating it add inches to your waistline, but it also damages the brain into being able to recognize when it's full, making the matter even worse. Trans fats are known to thicken the brain itself, creating issues with learning new things and memory recovery. Ultimately, fatty foods can clog up the flow of blood to the brain and increasing your chances for dementia. It's best to keep an eye on labels, and stay away from any processed, fried, or fatty foods containing these types of fats.
Sugar and HFCSA lot of us have a sweet tooth, and because sugars taste so good, it's no surprise. Unfortunately, too much refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup (read on labels as anything ending in -ose, like glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose) will leave you feeling sluggish and adding to weight gain. Back in August, I wrote an article about the effects of sugar and why kicking the addiction is a smart move. The content still applies, but the biggest issue is sugar's ability to lead to insulin resistance and ultimately, diabetes and even Alzheimer's.
Anxiety and DepressionThe University of Montreal found that mice whose diets were high in sugar and fat had different chemical activity in their brains and exhibited more signs of withdrawal and anxiety at the end of the study. In addition, their brains were high in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and had higher levels of the CREB molecule, which is known to play a role in dopamine production (dopamine promotes feelings of reward). According to a statement by lead researcher Stephanie Fulton, "CREB is much more activated in the brains of higher-fat diet mice and these mice also have higher levels of corticosterone, a hormone that is associated with stress. This explains both the depression and the negative behaviour cycle."
HippocampusStudies show that diets high in fat and sugar cause inflammation to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls special memory. One of the concerning things discovered in a 2013 study by the University of New South Wales in Australia, was when the rats in the test returned to their ordinarily healthy diet, the damage to their hippocampus didn't rectify itself. The implications of this haven't fully been tested with humans, but think about that for a minute. If the food we eat (or frankenfood, as it were) can inflame our hippocampus and cause irreparable damage to our brain function, do you still want to eat it?
We all have our Achilles heel when it comes to foods we probably shouldn't eat, but can't stay away from. Some like salty, other's savory, and many like things sweet. In the long run a diet high in any of these types of foods, particularly in this day and age of the "perfect combo" manufactured foods, will do more harm than good. Not only will it wreak havoc on your physique, but it may also cause irreparable damage to your brain. The only way to truly avoid this kinds of detrimental exposure is to watch what we eat, purchase only foods that are clear of toxic ingredients, and get the word out to as many people as we can about the long term effects of junk food. Start young, too. Our kids and grandkids are the future, and if we can expose them to label reading, and healthy choices, maybe they won't be facing the problems our generation may soon face in terms of our health.
Carissa Andrews is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.