Junk food is the modern-day equivalent of the Sirens in Greek mythology. It sings an enchanting song that lures you to the fast food drive-thru, vending machines and snack aisles. You may know others who have fallen victim to its allure, but you think I am younger, healthier and smarter. Like Odysseus, you should avoid this hazard or ask your friends to help when you cannot resist.
A 2010 study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute in Florida may help explain the negative effects of these foods on brain health. Scientists evaluated the effects of a diet with excess fat and sugar. One group received a nutritious diet while another group had unlimited access to succulent treats like cheesecake and sausage. The cheesecake group began to crave the unhealthy food and exhibit compulsive eating habits. They also showed signs of addictive behavior similar to that which occurs with illicit drug use.
While animals fed the healthy diet stopped eating after receiving electric shocks, the rats fed junk food ignored the painful jolts and continued eating. Researchers obtained similar results during a study that allowed rats to have unrestricted access to cocaine and heroin. Like these illegal drugs, junk food reduces dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain associated with pleasure. As dopamine levels drop, a person must consume more junk food to feel the same level of pleasure. When the scientists offered the cheesecake group healthier food, the animals staged a hunger strike that lasted two weeks.
These foods taste delicious, but they are poor sources of minerals, vitamins and protein. Junk food is laden with calories, fat, sugar and sodium that increase your health risk for obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and early death. Eating junk food makes it difficult for you to obtain the recommended daily allowance of nutrients that your body needs to meet its metabolic requirements.
Numerous studies indicate that there is an inverse relationship between junk food and a person’s sense of wellbeing. Individuals who eat highly processed and fried foods like white bread, French fries and hot dogs were more likely to experience depression than their counterparts who eat a healthy diet. Other psychological problems include anxiety and hyperactivity. Because junk food has a low fiber content, people eat more to feel full. Overeating increases medical complications, which can worsen mental health disorders.
A healthy diet includes minimally processed whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean meat and fish. Whenever possible, try to eat locally grown crops because it usually has more nutrients than produce transported across the country. Remember to limit your consumption of refined sugar, flour and salt.
Science demonstrates that food affects your health. As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” A nutritious diet provides energy and reduces the risk for disease. While junk food can cause lack of focus, memory loss and exhaustion, healthy food choices promote energy and clear thinking.