Food Influences Brain (Emotions, Thoughts, Decisions, Memory) and ultimately The Behavior of the Entire World.
Pls take this seriously. We Gain Nothing But Brain Drain By Taking Up the Junk Food Lane.
Ref; All video credits to DW Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLpbfOJ4bJU
Junk is thrown into the dustbin and cleared out of our homes every single day to keep our heavenly abodes neat and clean. Humanity lives by these principles taking extensive care to keep their homes (even if we don’t care much about our surroundings) clean but fails to keep their own body clean and healthy-our love for junk food shows a steady graphical increase with every passing day! Junk literally means garbage or trash but we shell out money or don’t mind putting on excess weight to indulge in junk foods. Eating yummy pizzas, burgers, crispy French fries, sweetened muffins or spicy hot dogs gratify our taste buds and invoke pleasure. Most humans feel content with such short-term happiness overlooking the long-term painful effects that could be caused due to our ignorance. Yes! High-calorie foods stacked with fats and sugars not only affect our physical health making us fat and prone to diseases but ruin our mental health too-they are hazardous enough to shrink our brain!
Shame on Us for Neglecting Our Brains
The human brain is an exciting organ that’s been an all-time favorite among researchers. It is full of surprises and information that help understand ourselves better. Even while sleeping our brain never relaxes but functions 24*7 to stay alive-not just to breathe but to lead a meaningful life! Humans need energy and fuel to function which is obtained from none other than the food that we eat. Anything that goes into the mouth does impact the brain in one way or the other-some foods in one way (promoting health)and some other foods in many ways (for instance, the junk or processed foods that ruin cognition, add body weight, etc.). While earlier research showed that certain foods have the ability to improve happiness also termed as mood-enhancing foods, we now have a greater number of research probing into the side effects of consuming junk food as individuals now are more inclined towards eating them.
Obesity is ruling the world due to which there are several health issues cropping up but we constantly keep forgetting the fact that health is a combination of both mental and physical health. While we were busy scrutinizing the impact of energy-dense foods on calorie gain the consequences of junk food on mental health remains unpopular among individuals though researchers have done their jobs well. Research and studies are shedding more and more light on this-increased violence, depression, anger, aggression, irritation, dissatisfaction among citizens could be due to increased intake of high-fat/high-sugar foods. Also, these foods act like slow poison subtly affecting our neurons, neurotransmitters, parts of the brain such as the hippocampus, memory capabilities and emotions. Are we inviting self-destruction here? How did it all begin?
Well-being & Health Starts from the Fetus
A mother is a child’s first relationship in this world through which the baby gets to know others. The relationship between a mom and a child starts right from fetal stage going strong until death. Women enjoy the best phase of life during pregnancy eating to their heart’s content and being pampered. Many go on an indefinite eating spree laying their hands on everything they could get. This puts the pregnant mother at risk for inappropriate weight gain which could lead to delivery-related problems. Besides, the developing fetus is at a very high risk of obesity and this is evidently clear with research results. But what we don’t know is that the nourishment of the expectant mothers affects the mental health of kids too. It’s only since the last decade that significant research and developments have been done in this field (maternal nutrition affects risk of mental illnesses, depression and anxiety in kids).
Food Intake of Expectant Mothers Affects Mental Health of Newborns
There are evidences showing that diet affects the development of neurotransmitter systems in the offspring and immune development too which in turn affects risk of mental health problems later in life. Rodent studies show that a diet rich in fats and sugars increases sympathetic nervous system activity and the creatures become hyperactive. We also know that lack of omega 3 fatty acids during fetal development reduces brain plasticity leading to anxiety-driven behavior in adult mice. A group of researchers studied the relationship between the mom’s nutritional intake during pregnancy and the child’s nutritional intake during the first five years of life and its effect on the child’s emotional health.
The study consisting of 23,020 children and women sent across self-reported questionnaires to pregnant women (17 weeks) and later after childbirth at regular intervals. The pregnant women were given a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) which probed into their intake of more than 200 foods and beverages. The items were divided into two dietary patterns-health and unhealthy. The child’s diet was also analyzed from the baby’s 18th month using a 36 item FFQ which included foods such as cereal porridge, dairy-based products and fruit juices. The food range varied as the child grew old and during every stage the foods included were categorized as healthy (veggies, fruits, milk, etc.) or unhealthy (sweets, soda, chips, cookies, ice creams, etc.).
Results showed that kids whose moms ate a greater proportion of junk foods showed increased levels of externalizing behavior (antisocial behavior, hostility and aggression). It was also observed that kids who ate junk during the first five years of their development showed evident traits of aggression, anger and irritation. A study in Germany showed that increased intake of confectionery but not sugar-sweetened drinks/snacks led to increased risk of emotional problems and higher intake of healthy foods led to decreased risk of such problems. Human genome is extremely vulnerable to environmental factors during early developmental years of life and any disturbance to normal development affects the mental health of the developing offspring.
Processed Foods Silently Increase Violence Levels in Individuals
The more we stuff our brain with junk food the less space it has for chemicals needed for its proper functioning. Most are aware of the popular phrase ‘You are what you eat’-foods intake and dietary patterns shape our behavior and characteristics by affecting structural development of the brain, neurotransmitters and brain functioning. It is already well-established that malnourished kids show high risks of aggression, violence, antisocial behavior, declined cognition and externalizing problems. It is around 7, 12 and 15 years that a child’s brain functional development reaches its peak. Insufficient nutrition (especially proteins and energy insufficiency) affects the development of the brain’s grey matter in the prefrontal cortex that’s involved in judgement, attention, planning and self-control.
Omega 3 fatty acids leads to structural changes in the brain. This nutrient is vital for optimal grey matter volume in the brain in areas that are associated with mood and behaviors. The brain’s grey matter consists of 90% fats and sadly, our human body cannot produce it. The only means of obtaining this fat (omega 3’s) is via the diet that we eat. Dietary intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids has varied greatly over the years thereby reducing omega 3 intakes as well. That’s due to the over consumption of processed foods that lack any of the good fats or nutrients. Rather, one is expected to increase the intake of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, nuts, flax seed and leafy vegetables.
A research study on juvenile jail inmates showed that most boys lacked all important nutrients needed for a healthy life. Once they were given nutrient-rich diets the percentage of violent incidents caused decreased by more than 50%. Though it’s only a hypothesis that nutritional food can decrease aggression and violence rates it is clearly evident from researches that violent prisoners (lacking in essential nutrients) who were supplemented with nutrient-enriched foods full of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids exhibited reduced levels of disciplinary offences and violence rates drops significantly.
Sugar: Most Potent Drug Used Universally
Increased sugar intake is a sure devil and a study shows that kids aged below 10 who ate sugar-rich foods such as cakes and chocolates regularly are at an increased risk of committing crime during their early adult years. Food could be a medium for improving well-being and optimizing mental state of individuals.
The bite of a chocolate, just a drop of honey on the tongue or some sugar particles makes even babies experience ultimate pleasure and they long for more. Kids become used to regular intakes of sugar-laden foods such as cupcakes, caramel popcorn, cakes and sweets right from their younger age-in the form of reward foods that are regularly given by parents for completing homework, refraining from violent activities and so on. Eating such foods makes kids happy, at least for some time. They are full of joy and excitement until they eat it and even until the taste lingers in their tongue. But after a while, the same tantrums begin and surprisingly, the satisfaction comes only when the quantity given too increases. This is even proved by a research study.
Researchers at the University of Oregon probed into the influence of sweet foods on brain. They gave ice creams/milkshakes to two groups of people and recorded their brain activity using MRI. One group was given a daily supply of ice creams while the other group was given the same food only once a week. Results showed that the group that regularly consumed ice creams experienced reduced pleasure and increased dissatisfaction in comparison to the other group. The reward response of the brain decreases and the brain becomes hypersensitive to food images. For instance, the picture of an ice cream or juice activates brain regions and the individual immediately wishes to eat them for satisfying their taste buds and pleasure centers. By treating ourselves or feeding our kids with more and more junk foods that are sugar-dense we are inviting trouble to our lives.
Sugar could be considered a potent drug in the same lines of morphine, cocaine and alcohol. The more we consume, the greater we yearn for again and again. It could be called as an intoxicant too! Once we enjoy the taste of it our minds never stop craving for more. Research shows that increased glucose intake has the potential to alter areas of the brain that control emotions. Our satiety levels keep decreasing, pleasure-seeking traits keep increasing and our brain stoops to any low level to gratify our pleasure needs-in terms of any junk food that we could lay our hands on.
Invade Your Fading Memory Before You Lose It Altogether
Hippocampus, the brain’s CPU or memory center is frightfully affected by the junk that we eat. It is a part of the limbic system that helps in converting essential information from short-term memory to long-term memory and is also integral for spatial memory (help humans find directions or help rats find foods using particular routes). Our brain stores memories which are formed through connections that happen between neurons-this is called as neuroplasticity and it happens throughout our lives. Research shows that an individual whose diet comprises of junk foods mostly reduces the neuroplasticity capabilities of the brain-the process through which we cherish our happy memories forever in our life or learn new things. Its this ability that helps people excel in studies, remember multiple things or possess cognitive abilities.
A research team led by Prof. Margaret Morris at the University of Sydney showed how spatial memory damages are extensively observed in rats which were fed with junk foods such as pastries and doughnuts. Rats fed such foods doubled their food intake ratio and were never satisfied with the quantity of food fed to them. These creatures were also put to a test using two tea cups that were placed in two positions between which the rodents kept moving around. After sometime, one of the tea cups was removed but the rats, which are generally highly skilled in spatial memory skills (the ability with which they locate foods in a maze), failed to recognize the moved object. This shows the effect of junk food consumption on poor spatial memory skills in rodents. In humans too we have various studies reporting the effects of energy-dense food consumption on decreased hippocampus performance.
The same foods also prevent the formation of new neurons (neurogenesis) that are essential for forming new memories. They even lead to inflammation in the brain that damage these neurons in the process. Researchers in Australia have showed that a diet consisting of cakes, cookies or sugary drinks for 5 continuous days can increase inflammation levels in the hippocampus. Such people also always feel hungry because its the hippocampus that receives fullness signs from the gut. And, when the hippocampus is damaged this cycle is broken causing people to desire for more and more food as they don’t receive satiety signs anymore.
Gut Microbiota & Food Choices
The human gut is indispensable for digesting food and expelling the unwanted ones. But recent research shows that the gut by itself could be a micro brain that rules our appetite and moods. Research even shows that our gut could be the culprit behind cravings for junk foods too. There is a two-way communication between the brain and the gut that happens via the brain-gut axis which is responsible for supervising our eating habits. This is evident from different research results-for instance, those who crave for more sweets have a different microbial breakdown composition in their urine that’s different from those who don’t crave.
The food we eat affects the bacterial composition of our gut. Its a conventional concept that our body desires for the nutrients it generally lacks. A study on flies that lacked proteins showed that surprisingly these specimens did not reach out for protein-rich foods placed in front of them even though they lacked this nutrient. The results showed that two specific microbes were responsible for suppressing the appetite for these proteins which made the researchers wonder whether the gut microbiota could affect food choices!
If that is true, then its better that we hold control over our gut composition before it starts affecting our food choices. This is possible by consuming enriching meals laden with ample nutrients. For instance, the best choice could be a Mediterranean diet that includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, olive oil, fish and whole grain, foods that are rich in all the essential nutrients needed for the healthy functioning of our body. Researches show that the degree of change in diet has a direct impact on the degree of change in emotions. In a study, a group of individuals who were habituated to regular consumption of junk foods switched over to a better diet-the healthy Mediterranean diet. Results showed that after a period of time, the degree of change in the diet had a direct impact on the degree of change in depression. As a welcome relief, the Mediterranean diet led to a decrease in depression levels proving that nutritious food choices go a long way towards better mental and physical health.
We have studies that have compared traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diets or the traditional Japanese diet to the Western diets whose results show that the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those who eat these traditional diets. Such enormous difference is due to the nutritional composition of these diets which include fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains and fish with optimal quantities of dairy and meat. Above all, these diets contain negligible amounts of sugar and refined foods that are the staple ingredients in junk foods and the Western diets. Unprocessed foods present in traditional diets are fermented and act as natural probiotics improving gut health.
Exploring the Flavors of Indian Spices
India is a country that’s proud of its cultural heritage, vibrant colors and above all, our healthy food habits and ingredients that promote good health, the most important of which are spices. Spices were an integral part of Indian medicines but now are being studied worldwide for their benefits in improving mental health. We love masala and spicy food. Spices such as turmeric, pepper, ginger and cumin seeds are a regular part of our daily cooking which shows that Indians have always been well-equipped for safeguarding their mental health. Spices have been shown to promote brain health, increase memory and cognition, enhance our focus and concentration and above all, protect brain cells health. Studies show that turmeric helps in repairing brain cells, cinnamon shows promising signs of improved cognition, the flavourful saffron is quoted to decrease depression and black pepper helps in increasing brain function and decreasing depression risks. But recent decades show a greater decline in the usage of such ingredients as many people have adopted the Western dietary routines and are fans of junk foods too. When our motherland is laden with all the wonderful spices and ingredients that promise wellness, health and fitness why are we craving for junk foods that take this all away and ruin our life? Include spices such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, ginger and garlic in your daily cooking to reap potential health benefits.
It’s never feasible to make a radical change and stick to it. Try to cut down a couple of junk items from your food list every week. Experience the changes in physical and mental health that happen for the better as a result of this. Then, reintroduce the cut down foods once again and see how bad you feel in terms of overall health. First hand experience of both would definitely encourage every one of you to eradicate the presence of junk foods from your life forever. Once you feel the joy of better mental stability, happiness, better mood levels, decreased aggression and irritability why would you feel like going back to your unhealthy junk food life? Eat a variety of food with well-balanced nutrients, relish on your sweets or cookies rarely and exercise regularly for a healthy life.
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Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz of First Eat Right clinic, is the Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Bangalore. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Pune. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Hyderabad. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Chennai. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Mumbai. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Delhi. Best Dietitian Nutritionist in Kolkata.