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Effects of Poor Diet on Mental Health

by Institute for Vibrant Living

Nothing illustrates the fact that "you are what you eat" better than the documentary "Super-Size Me." The movie followed Morgan Spurlock as he determined to eat only fast food three times a day for one month. Midway through the month the effects of poor diet from his self-imposed junk food menu were taking their toll. Not only did he have massive weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, but the diet took a heavy toll on his mental health. Low energy levels, massive headaches and depression quickly took hold, showing how our bodies react to the effects of poor diet, both physically and mentally.

brain is influenced by what we eat and drink

How our Diet Affects our Mental Health

The film, and subsequent studies, shows the close relationship between food, energy and the chemicals in our brain. Scientists tell us that carbohydrates increase serotonin in the brain, which has a calming, soporific effect. Protein triggers the brain to produce tyrosine, dopamine and norepinephrine to stimulate alertness; while omega-3 fatty acids control many brain processes.

By comparison, a poor diet can quickly lead to vitamin deficiencies, hormone imbalance, brain fatigue, poor concentration and depression. The experiment showed clearly that the body needs a wide variety of nutrients to support a healthy body and mind.

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Defining a Poor Diet

Now that we know more about the effects of poor diet on our mental health, we need to define what constitutes a "poor diet." For some it is a fast food diet, as in the documentary, while others would consider an extreme calorie restricted diet to be a poor diet.

Cutting out whole food groups such as fats or carbohydrates can also lead to poor mental health as the brain needs some glucose and healthy fats to operate. Without healthy essential fatty acids, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, the brain can quickly lapse into poor memory and cognitive function impairment. It's a fact that for a healthy brain, we need to consume healthy, whole foods.  

All this is supported by a study published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The tests showed that rats fed a high-fat diet, similar to a fast food diet, quickly displayed the negative effects of poor diet with lower cognitive abilities, when compared to rats fed a healthy low-fat diet.

This research concluded that eating a diet high in antioxidants, green vegetables and healthy omega-3’s clearly leads to a healthier body and mind, making the case for a healthy diet a no-brainer! 

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