When treats trick: Sugary foods and poor diet increase your risk for depression and anxiety


When some people are sad, they eat chocolates or potato chips to cheer themselves up. But according to various studies, you should snack on healthier foods the next time you’re feeling glum because sugar, fast food, and processed food have all been linked to conditions such as addictive behavior, anxiety, and depression.

In short, the foods that you thought helped improve your mood actually makes you feel worse.

Eating habits and mental health

In a long-term study, researchers tracked the diets and medical conditions of 8,000 adults older than 22. At the start of the study, none of the volunteers were being treated for depression or other mental health disorders.

However, once the study concluded, the researchers found that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar daily had a 23 percent chance of being diagnosed with depression in a five-year period compared to those who consumed 40 grams or less.

The researchers also assessed the diet and mental health of 850 girls who were aged 12 to 18. The findings showed that the consumption of fast food (e.g., fried food, hamburgers, pizza, and ramen noodles) and other processed foods were linked to a greater risk for depression.

These findings highlight the connection between the diet and mental health of teenagers who are already at high risk for conditions like depression and anxiety. Researchers are also concerned since the adolescent brain is more susceptible to advertisements for fast foods, sweetened beverages, and sugary cereal, which could significantly affect their eating habits. (Related: Could your depression be caused by your diet?)

Compared to other age groups, American teens consume more added sugar. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that about one-fifth of a typical American adolescent’s calorie intake comes from sugar, via energy drinks, soda, and sports drinks.

Experts posit that sugar and poor diet affect mental health through several factors such as:

Sugar and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF)

Data from a study led by British researcher Malcolm Peet suggests that the activity of BNDF, a crucial growth hormone in the brain, could be the connecting factor between high sugar consumption and mental health disorders.

Consuming foods and beverages full of sugar could cause various physiological events that reduce BDNF. It is worth noting that low BDNF levels are associated with depression and schizophrenia, along with Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

Sugar’s addictive qualities

Mounting evidence suggests that “sugar and refined sweeteners act more like addictive drugs than food,” which results in a high and then a crash.

To a lesser extent, sugar and processed food flood the brain with dopamine (also called the “feel-good chemical”), just like drugs. Excess levels of dopamine may influence the natural functions of the brain over time, which can negatively affect your mental health.

According to a 2011 study conducted by researchers from Yale University, simply looking at a milkshake activated the reward centers of the brain in individuals with addictive eating habits. These are the same reward centers that are activated in the brains of people who use cocaine.

Data from a separate animal study showed that rats preferred sugar water to cocaine, even when they were already addicted to cocaine prior to the study. This is alarming since the adolescent brain, which doesn’t fully mature until a person is in their mid-20s, is especially vulnerable to addictive stimuli.

Nutritional deficits

When teenagers consume foods with empty calories, they are eating fewer foods that can improve their mental health.

Scientists have already determined specific nutrients that support a balanced microbiome, healthy brain function, and optimal serotonin levels, such as:

However, these nutrients can’t be found in sugary and processed junk foods.

To ensure that your children are physically and mentally healthy, ensure that their diet includes a lot of nutritious fruits and vegetables to lower their risk for conditions like depression and anxiety.

Sources include:

Health.USNews.com

VeryWellMind.com

RD.com

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