Processed food isn’t just bad for your waistline, and there are many ways processed foods affect your brain that most people don’t think about. Sure, I know that our options seem to be getting healthier as more and more food companies are producing “healthier” processed foods with less sugar, salt, gluten, and fewer trans fats, and additives. However, I’m sorry to say that the majority of our choices today aren’t healthy, and they’re not only causing obesity rates to rise, along with heart disease, but are also affecting many people’s brains, causing mood disorders, and even ADHD, autism, IBS and other digestive disorders, food addictions, and yes, even cancer! Study after study are showing that certain ingredients in processed foods are being linked to such conditions, so it’s always best to avoid them whenever possible. Check out 7 ways processed foods affect your brain, and avoid them however you can. Natural food isn’t only better for your body ladies, but also your brain!
It’s no surprise that one of the most detrimental ways processed foods affect your brain is they are downright addicting, and food companies know this. Even brands that promote their products as healthy usually have either MSG, too much salt, processed fast, or simple sugars like cane syrup, cane solids, sugar, large amounts of honey or more "natural" syrups, or artificial sweeteners. All of these ingredients induce a heightened since of pleasure to the brain, which makes you crave more, and more, and you find yourself not being able to stop eating them. The bad part is, all of these foods contain very little nutrients. Think about it for a second if you will: these foods were refined and made in a plant or factory. How healthy can they really be, despite what the label says? Be careful about what you buy, and what you spend your money on because most processed foods are highly addictive, no matter what the label says.
Though most taste great, most processed foods contain few nutrients, and instead, tons of additives, sugar, salts or fats. Another way processed foods affect your brain is that these intense flavor add-ins cause a huge sense of euphoria to the brain, but less than an hour later, you find yourself hungry, and craving more, leaving you anxious, moody, or a mix of all three. Processed foods are man-made, and don’t contain the calming, stabilizing effects to your body for longer periods of time like whole foods do.
Due to the high quantity of additives, sugars, salts and fats that processed foods can contain, many can make you tired around an hour after eating them. If they are full of additives, one reason they lead to sleepiness is because your liver is working double time to try to process all the stuff it doesn’t recognize as real food. It has to weed out the toxic waste to try to process the nutrients from the food for energy. If the food has a lot of sugar, it is likely that your blood sugar spiked initially when you ate the food, but plummeted minutes later. Foods high in sodium can make you tired because your blood pressure rises when you eat them, making you stressed and utterly exhausted. Processed foods high in unnatural fats can be tough on your digestive system tiring your body, making you feel sleepy because your stomach is working overtime to try to digest it all.
As I mentioned earlier, many ingredients in processed foods are now being linked to ADHD such as food dyes and some additives. It is always best to avoid any food that contains dyes and unnatural preservatives. They even tend to cause anxiety and restlessness in people without ADHD, but for ADHD patients, they tend to be a prime trigger of symptoms.
If you eat processed foods at night and can’t sleep, try eliminating them to see if it helps. One way that processed foods can affect your brain is they keep you from sleeping for a variety of reasons. Many have added sources of caffeine, or the refined sugar content might keep you from sleeping temporarily. Also, many processed foods can also be hard to digest, which might cause you to have trouble falling asleep due to gastrointestinal discomfort.
6. Learning Impairments
Many studies have now linked to learning impairments in children and adults, with a lower intake of antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, iron and B vitamins. Cognitive function declined greatly the lower amounts of these nutrients participants in studies were given through processed foods. Processed foods lack these vital nutrients that help the brain process new information, and retain past information.
Lastly, one of the worst ways processed foods affect the brain is they cause depression. For many people, not having certain foods can dampen the mood, which is a sign of withdrawal, or certain additives, sugars, fats, refined grains, and preservatives cause triggers to the brain that negatively impact the mood. I know when I was at my worst states of depression, I was eating more processed foods than ever, so I can see how this is true. Most people who receive nutrients from whole foods tend to be happier, more energetic, and more lively than those who eat mostly processed foods.
If you buy a food with a label, make sure it has less than three ingredients, and no more than 2-3 grams of added sugars. Also, try to pick something with fiber in it that isn’t from a refined source like inulin, chicory, wheat gluten, etc. Some of my favorite healthier processed foods are plain Greek yogurt, packets of plain almonds or almond butter, unsalted trail mix varieties, Larabars, and unsweetened almond milk. What’s your favorite healthier form of processed foods, or what ingredients to you avoid on labels?