If you enjoy fast food, like hamburgers and fries, for example, you are not alone. While these foods are delicious, most of them are rich in sugar, salt, preservatives, and saturated fat. All of those facts contribute to numerous health problems in your body (including your brain) with excessive consumption.
Here are some statistics to underscore how popular these foods are among Americans. Between 2013 and 2016, nearly 40 percent of Americans admitted to consuming fast food regularly. Those statistics come directly from experts at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT FAST FOODS
The same study published by the CDC revealed the following when it comes to fast food consumption in America:
The percentage of people who consume fast food regularly is highest among those between 20 and 39 years old. Of those surveyed, about 45 percent admit that it is their main source of nutrition. However, the percentage seems to decrease with age.
The study revealed that only 37.7 percent of people between the ages of 40 and 59, along with 24.1 percent of people over the age of 60, admitted to consuming fast food regularly.
More non-Hispanic black adults eat fast food than non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Asian and Hispanic adults.
Most Americans admitted not only spending more on fast food but also eating out more frequently as their income increased.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BRAIN WHEN YOU EAT TOO MUCH FAST FOOD?
We now have a better understanding of how prevalent fast food is in America. Next, let's take a closer look at how these foods can lead to poor health.
Of course, we've all heard that eating foods high in fat and sodium contribute to:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain types of cancer
However, many are unaware of the damage these foods can do to the most important organ in your body: the brain. In fact, too much fast food can also negatively affect brain health by contributing to the following:
1 - DEPRESSION
A diet that mainly consists of fast food can cause severe bouts of depression. ScienceDaily, an online resource covering discovery-related topics in science, health, environmental issues, and technology, published a study. They revealed that the more hamburgers, fries, and pizzas an individual eats, the more these foods affect their physical health. And, as their health begins to deteriorate, they inevitably become depressed. Additionally, many will continue to consume these foods as a way to combat these negative feelings. And that starts a downward spiral that only makes things worse.
2 - ANXIETY
Along with depression, anxiety can also be caused by consuming too much fast food. Most of these foods contain a good amount of refined carbohydrates. This can cause your blood glucose levels to drop dangerously low, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. Beyond that, low blood glucose levels can lead to panic attacks, insomnia, and hypoglycemia.
But what are refined carbohydrates? They are carbohydrates that are low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Also known as simple carbohydrates, refined carbohydrates include white bread, pizza dough, pasta, white flour, white rice, desserts, and some cereals.
Also, be aware that even fast food marketed as healthy can cause anxiety. For example, an article published by livestrong.com revealed that many salad dressings contain a high amount of sodium benzoate, a preservative commonly used in acidic foods. Sodium benzoate can trigger anxiety and can also lead to decreased motor function if consumed in excess. Along with salad dressing, sodium benzoate is also commonly used in soft drinks as a way to enhance its high fructose corn syrup flavor.
3 - NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASES
Even worse than anxiety and depression, a diet rich in fast foods, particularly those that contain a lot of sugar, can lead to neurodegenerative diseases. These conditions include dementia and Alzheimer's.
Research shows that consuming excessive amounts of fast food can cause the pancreas to produce too much insulin. Therefore, the brain can develop intolerance to insulin.
For those who may not be as familiar with insulin resistance, it is a pathological condition in which cells do not respond properly to the hormone insulin. If this happens, it can impede the brain's ability to create and store memories. Eventually, it can give way to dementia, Alzheimer's, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
4 - HYPERACTIVITY
Most will agree that a fast food meal is not complete without a cool, refreshing soda; However, these drinks, when consumed in excess, have been linked to hyperactivity. Studies show that the sugar, artificial colors, and sodium benzoate in these drinks can trigger a sugar rush, which is often characterized by feelings of nervousness. This form of hyperactivity can last 30 to 40 minutes and can include the following symptoms:
- Blurry vision
- Frequent urination
5 - DETERMINED LEARNING SKILL
Consuming too much fast food can make learning difficult, according to a study by researchers and scientists at RMIT University, a public research university located in Australia. The study revealed that many of the fast foods that teens and young adults enjoy most, such as pizzas, hamburgers, and french fries, for example, can lead to decreased neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections. .
The development of the human brain does not stop until an individual is in their early 30s. Therefore, a decrease in neuroplasticity can be especially problematic for adolescents and young adults. However, the same can also apply to older adults who are already at risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease.
6 - NEUROINFLAMMATION
For those who may not be familiar with neuroinflammation, it is a clinical term used to describe inflammation of the hippocampus. That is the small region of the brain that is part of the limbic system and stores both short-term and long-term memory.
Over time, a diet rich in fast food can make this region of the brain swell. When this happens, the hippocampus can no longer receive signaling messages from the stomach to indicate that it is full, which can lead to overeating and worse, weight gain.
HOW TO AVOID FALLING INTO RAPID TEMPTATIONS
Studies show that the main reason many Americans choose fast food over healthy and nutritious meals is that they are more convenient. It's hard to argue against it when you consider that there is a McDonald’s, KFC, or Burger King in almost every corner of every neighborhood in America. It's also worth noting that, for many people, fast food is an addiction, according to a study published by the National Institute of Health. With that said, let's take a look at a few ways to avoid temptation and fast food cravings:
1 - MEAL PLANNING
One of the best ways to avoid being tempted by fast food is through meal planning, which involves planning a day or even a week of healthy meals. By doing so, you will be less likely to give in to temptation and cravings that would otherwise lead you to eat fast food.
2 - STAY HYDRATED
Drinking plenty of water not only keeps you hydrated, but also makes you feel more satiated, which means you'll be less likely to indulge in an unhealthy diet. Beyond that, drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day provides numerous health benefits, such as preventing constipation, improving digestive health, and preventing kidney stones, for example.
3 - EAT MORE PROTEIN
Eating more lean protein-rich foods, such as turkey and chicken breast, can help reduce food cravings by keeping you full longer. Of course, it would be a good idea to go for the broiled or baked variation when it comes to these foods. To further illustrate this point, in a study shared by Healthline, people who increased their protein intake by 25 percent saw a significant decrease in food cravings.
4 - SLEEP WELL
Getting 7-9 hours of deep restful sleep each night has been shown to help people avoid indulging in cravings and temptation when it comes to fast food and other unhealthy snacks. A recent study revealed that sleep-deprived people are more likely to make poor food choices and are also 55 percent more likely to like being overweight or obese.
5 - EAT CONSCIOUSLY
Practicing mindful eating is another great way to avoid cravings and temptation. It can also benefit those who struggle with bingeing. In short, mindful eating is a form of meditation that enables people to become more self-aware. Also, this practice increases awareness of eating habits, emotions, and cravings when it comes to food. With practice, most people can be very adept at distinguishing cravings, temptation, and physical hunger when it comes to their desire to eat. Although you can technically practice mindful eating while enjoying fast food, a healthy, balanced meal would be a much better option.
KEY TO AVOIDING FAST FOODS TO IMPROVE YOUR WELL-BEING
A diet that mainly consists of fast food can cause a number of health problems. And therefore, they should only be consumed in moderation. Instead, you should provide your body with nutrient-dense foods such as lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain carbohydrates, especially if your goal is to live a long, healthy life.