From a young age, we’re encouraged to eat “well-balanced meals” to be physically healthy. What is not emphasized enough is how nutrition plays a vital role in our mental and emotional health. While a well-balanced diet helps us focus and feel energized, a poor diet impairs our mental health, causing fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36.6% of the US population consumes fast food daily. Another study reported that people who consume fast food regularly are 51% more likely to be depressed. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders among Americans affecting young and old alike. Many seek outpatient mental health treatment from a professional center like Clear Recovery, which understands the connection between nutrition and mental health. Call 877.799.1985 today to learn more.
The Impact of Processed Foods on Physical Health, Nutrition, and Mental Health
The American food culture and prevalence of fast food consumption have created many physical and mental health problems in our society today. Fast food chains were created to promote convenient, quick, and affordable meals for those unable to manage their time for cooking at home or afford healthy and nutritious meals. The majority of these food products contain ingredients high in flour and sugar, which have addictive effects on the brain, causing it to crave more to feel satisfied or full. Along with these addictive effects, processed foods contain additives and chemicals that interfere with our body’s natural processes, such as:
- Hormone production
- Immune function
- Sexual function
- Memory function
Physical Health Effects
When the normal functioning of the body’s natural processes is interrupted or negatively impacted by diet, the imbalance can manifest in many different ways. Consider some of the following facts and statistics that affect millions of Americans daily:
- Processed foods are filled with refined carbohydrates, which can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, contributing to anxiety and insomnia.
- Artificial colors, preservatives, and high levels of sodium cause “the jitters” and contribute to the addictive effect on the brain.
- Insulin levels in your body increase with the consumption of fatty and sugary foods can increase the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes.
- High levels of insulin can also affect your brain’s memory ability to process and retain memories, which can increase the lifetime risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Fast foods are designed to have a long shelf life. They are made and packaged with chemicals called phthalates. These chemicals interfere with hormone activity and are known to cause reproductive problems in humans.
- High levels of sugars and refined carbs lead to inflammation throughout the body, reducing blood flow and nitric oxide, which can cause erectile dysfunction in men.
- The physical problems that fast food brings interfere with your body’s immune system, making it difficult to fight off viruses and other diseases.
The consumption of processed foods affects not only your internal health but also your external appearance. Fast food consumption promotes obesity, a medical condition characterized by having too much body fat and is caused by the consumption of fast foods and a lack of physical activity. This can lead to serious physical health issues such as:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Joint problems
In addition to physical challenges, people who carry excess weight often struggle with depression and other mental health disorders, according to the National Council on Aging. People who carry significant extra weight are sometimes unable to do the things they love, which can hinder relationships and cause feelings of loneliness and depression. Society’s negative perspectives on obesity contribute to weight discrimination and stigmatization, affecting self-esteem, employment opportunities, and access to quality healthcare.
Mental Health Effects
Various factors contribute to the relationship between processed food and mental health. The chemicals found in junk food interfere with our brain’s capacity to retain information, interfere with our ability to focus, desensitize our “feel good receptors,” and interfere with our ability to process our emotions. Anxiety, depression, and insomnia are enhanced due to ingesting harmful chemicals found in junk food, which can interfere with our daily lives and make tasks more challenging to complete.
Having low self-esteem, repressed trauma, and depression are factors that lead to having an unhealthy relationship with food. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 30 million Americans live with an eating disorder. 50% of those with an eating disorder are up to 5 times more likely to struggle with addiction, as reported by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse, while 35% have also had eating disorders.
Neglecting your diet, relying on convenience foods, or reducing your food intake, reduces the nutrients that your mind and body need to function to the best of their ability. There are a variety of foods to incorporate into your daily diet to help boost your mood, energy level, and ability to concentrate.
Proper Nutrition Leads to a Healthy Body and a Healthy Mind
Eating well makes you feel better mentally and physically. There are some small changes that you can make to your daily diet that can make the biggest difference in your mental health while preventing physical health issues. Certain foods contain natural acids, minerals, and other nutrients to help boost your mood, mind, and promote healthy sleeping patterns.
Brown rice, quinoa, beets, and sweet potatoes: These foods contain complex carbohydrates that give you a boost of natural energy. They have more nutritional value and are a healthier substitute for sugar and candy.
Chicken, fish, meat, eggs, soybeans, nuts, and seeds: These foods contain a good amount of protein which allows your body to think and react quickly. They also contain fatty acids, which are crucial for the proper function of your brain and nervous system.
Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados: These foods contain healthy fats, which support your brain function.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish, oils, nuts: These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost your focus.
Bananas, chamomile, cherries, yogurt: These foods contain amino acids, melatonin, antioxidants, and other minerals that help your body reach a relaxed state for quality sleep.
Serotonin and Dopamine
Dairy products, eggs, pineapple, poultry, bananas, and chocolate: These foods boost your body’s serotonin and dopamine levels, promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.
In addition to enjoying anti-inflammatory foods and exercising regularly, exploring alternative ways to support your mental health can help improve your overall well-being.
Reach Out to Clear Recovery for Nutrition and Mental Health Information
Clear Recovery Centers offers mental health and substance use treatment programs in the Los Angeles area. We understand the cycle of addiction and the link between nutrition and mental health. Call 877.799.1985 today or contact us online to learn more.