Is Your Diet Damaging Your Brain?6 years ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Just when I think I’ve heard it all, I discover that there are people who follow ‘junk food diets’ to lose weight.
Take, for example, the story of a science teacher named John Cisna. He made national headlines, starred in a documentary and wrote a book called My McDonald’s Diet.
Reportedly, Cisna lost 56 pounds in six months while eating nothing but McDonald’s!
Cisna’s starting weight was 280 pounds. After 90 days on the McDonald’s Diet, he lost an impressive 37 pounds. At the end of six months, his weight was at 224 pounds, according to this Business Insider article.
Cisna limited his daily caloric intake to 2,000 calories and exercised for 45 minutes five times a week.
“In the film, Cisna pushes the message that you can eat anything you want as long as you regulate calories and exercise,” reports Business Insider.
"I eat McDonald's every day because I enjoy it," Cisna said, who is now a paid brand ambassador for McDonald’s.
Cisna’s McDonald’s Diet, unfortunately, is not the only junk food diet out there that has gained a lot of attention. A nutrition professor lost 27 pounds on a ‘Twinkie Diet.’ And then there’s Dr. Siegal’s 'Cookie Diet' (yes, you read that right, ‘Doctor!’), which includes ‘normal cookies’ that are just low calorie and ‘contain a special mix of proteins that naturally suppress hunger.’
I find these stories very disturbing. It is true you can lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn. But eating a diet rich in nutrient-void, high sugar, high saturated fat, processed junk foods sets the perfect stage for developing nutritional deficiencies, heart disease, diabetes, digestive issues and even cancer.
And perhaps one of the biggest health consequences of junk food diets may be the impact they could have on your mind.
We’ve actually discussed this issue before. Junk foods increase your risk of developing depression by causing prolonged inflammation in the body. In addition to this, these inflammation-promoting foods may wreak havoc on your gut microbiome, further increasing the risk of developing depression.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says, “Chronic inflammation is a pathological condition characterized by continued active inflammation response and tissue destruction.”
And some of this tissue destruction may involve the destruction of brain tissue, which could lead to mental illness and other cognitive issues like dementia.
One recent study “found that eating a diet containing foods which are known to promote inflammation – such as those high in cholesterol, saturated fats and carbohydrates – makes you around 40% more likely to develop depression,” according to a report discussing the study.
“On any given day in the United States, an estimated 36.6% or approximately 84.8 million adults consume fast food,” said a representative, in a report, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So it should perhaps not be a surprise that depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. (Reportedly, 13 percent of Americans take antidepressants and this percentage appears to be headed in an upward trajectory).
And there is some evidence that just one serving of junk food (which pretty much any type of ‘fast food’ is) can cause inflammation throughout the body.
Inflammatory Foods vs. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Now I’m not suggesting that you should never enjoy a drive-thru burger and fries or indulge in a cookie or donut. And let’s face it, now that we are in the thick of the winter holiday season, many of us will be eating sweets and fried foods. With that said, these are not foods that you should eat on a consistent basis and certainly not foods you should include in your diet (while excluding other foods that are healthy) to lose weight.
You want to include in your diet plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are nutrient-dense and actually fight inflammation in the body (not promote it). Natural, unprocessed plant-based foods and healthy sources of protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals help suppress inflammation and provide protection from a myriad of health issues, including depression.
Incorporating herbs and spices into your diet is another great way to fight inflammation. Turmeric, for example, is said to have great anti-inflammatory properties. You can also sip green and herbal teas, which contain powerful antioxidants for fighting inflammation.
So before the holiday festivities really begin, load up on teas, fruits and veggies to combat some of the inflammation-causing foods you will likely be eating. Throw herbs like basil and oregano into your eggs. It definitely helps to ‘combat the damage before it’s done.’
Other Ways to Be Proactive About Fighting Inflammation & Depression?
- Sleep. Getting good rest is so critical to our health, and there is credible evidence which suggests that a lack of sleep causes people to crave junk food.
- Avoid Stress. Easier said than done, but chronic stress is a contributor to chronic inflammation. So exercise regularly (which is a great way to manage stress), meditate and commit to activities that help put your mind at ease and relieve stress.
- Watch the Booze. Consuming alcohol in excess is a sure way to promote prolonged inflammation and tissue damage throughout the body. Drinking excessively also depletes the body of nutrients. So you could be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, but if you also drink a lot you are essentially canceling out all the benefits you would be receiving from those nutritious foods.
- Kick the Cigarettes. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on why smoking is terrible for your mind and body. A cigarette delivers tons of cancer-causing chemicals, tissue damage and inflammation.
Finally, include routine nutrient tests in your proactive lifestyle. Maintaining nutritional balance will help your body better fight inflammation and depression. If the tests reveal you have too little or too much of a certain nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to adjust your diet and possibly recommend quality supplements.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.