By: PENNY MACIAS
Chips, fries, milkshakes, we all know these are bad for your health, but they’re so hard to resist! On Halloween and Easter, it’s hard to stop yourself from eating tons of candy. While many teens around the world love to indulge in these sweet temptations, if you’re between the ages of 10 and 19, overeating junk food can harm your body and your brain.
Junk food shapes adolescent brains in many ways, including impairing their ability to think, learn and remember. It can also make it harder to control impulsive behaviors and increase a teen’s risk of depression and anxiety. But because it’s harder for teens to resist, they’re the most significant junk food consumers. Your brain is naturally hardwired to pick the fattiest and sweetest foods as it releases more dopamine when you eat it. The adolescent brain is at its peak level of sensitivity to rewards by having lots of dopamine receptors, driving forward junk foods’ desire.
Repeated stimulation of the brain results in long-lasting changes, which means that the brain’s reward system adapts to frequently eating fast food. This could mean developing a durable “sweet tooth” during adolescence that encourages overindulgence to achieve candy-driven dopamine kicks for the rest of your life.
In one 2013 study, Amy Reichelt, brain and nutrition specialist at Canada’s Western University in London, Ontario, and her team recruited more than 2,000 11- to 14-year-olds living in London, England. Each answered questions about what they ate and how they felt mentally. The kids were asked how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate each day. They also were asked how often they ate chips, candy, cookies, fried foods, and sugary soft drinks. Then they were sorted into five groups, depending on how healthy their diets were.
Next, the adolescents answered 13 questions designed to figure out if they suffered from depression. The questions asked about their emotions and behavior over the previous two weeks. They were phrased as statements. The kids described if those statements were factual, not authentic, or sometimes accurate. Questions ranged from “I feel miserable or unhappy” and “I didn’t enjoy anything at all” to “I felt so tired, I just sat around and did nothing.¨ The researchers scored each kid’s answers for signs of depression. Adolescents who ate the most junk food were nearly 50 percent more likely to show signs of depression. The teenage brain needs healthy food to form properly. So, the next time you’re thinking about eating a bag full of family-sized chips, or a tub of ice cream, think about what it might do to your brain. It might taste good, but then again, you are what you eat!