Eating junk food doesn’t just make you fat — it also makes you stupid.
Findings from this study, involving teenagers from the general Australian population, support the proposal that diets rich in highly processed foods are not likely to benefit brain function.
It is important to note that observational studies like this one can never provide definitive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships. Nonetheless, these results add to a growing body of evidence that so-called 'junk-food' diets may have negative effects on mood, behaviour and cognition, as well as physical health.
For details of this research, see:
Researchers from Australia came to this conclusion after evaluating the dietary habits of young teenagers as part of a large study, determining that those who consume a high amount of soft drinks, fried foods and other processed garbage perform worse mentally.
The University of Western Australia study looked at more than 600 kids who participated in the larger Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. Each of the participants, age 14 at the time, was asked to fill out a questionnaire about food frequency. Three years later, he or she was given a series of cognitive tasks to perform that evaluated performance compared to all the other children.
It was observed that children with higher consumption of takeout foods, processed meats, soft drinks and other refined and sugar-laden fare had decreased psychomotor function, impaired reaction time and problems focusing visually. Junk food eaters also had trouble learning and remembering things compared to those who ate more fruits and leafy green vegetables.
Junk foods, as most of our readers already know, lack the essential micronutrients and trace minerals typically found in whole foods. It is this general nutrient deficiency, says Dr. Anett Nyaradi, that more than likely causes junk food eaters to struggle cognitively.
Leafy green vegetables, for instance, are loaded with vitamins like folate, which has been linked to enhanced cognitive development. Whole, plant-based foods also tend to have a more balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which is extremely important for brain development. Junk foods typically contain excessive amounts of omega-6, and very little omega-3.
Unlike earlier nutrition studies, Dr. Nyaradi’s research looked at the health effects of comprehensive junk food consumption, not just isolated ingredients or nutrients. This holistic approach, she says, proves all the more how important it is for developing children to consume full-spectrum nutrition from whole, as opposed to processed, foods.
“Adolescence represents a critical time period for brain development,” she stated. “It is possible that poor diet is a significant risk factor during this period… indeed, our findings support this proposition.”
As far as omega-3s are concerned, children should be consuming plenty of foods and oils rich in this important brain nutrient. These include pastured meats and grass-fed butter, cod liver oil, skate liver oil, butter oil and hemp oil. The hemp and chia seeds are also highly beneficial brain foods rich in omega-3s