The Gut-Brain Connection
Linking Health and Happiness
There is nothing quite like the comforting taste of junk food after a long day. We know what it looks like—golden brown, maybe glazed, or perhaps crispy. More importantly, we know what it tastes like—a decadent explosion of sweet and salty flavors.
Junk food is a cheap and easy fix.
Many of us are familiar with the rush of pleasure that comes with these indulgent snacks. However, just as many of us are likely to have first-hand experience with their negative effects on our well-being.
The connection between chronic illness and junk food is hardly news. Most of us are aware of how processed fats, sugars, and carbohydrates compromise our health. However, many of us aren’t conscious of the full impact these foods have on our systems—not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
It’s true that healthy sugars, fats, and carbohydrates are a necessary part of a healthy diet. However, the refined and processed versions of these molecules are bad news for our bodies.
It is well documented that refined sugars and starches are risk factors for inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular problems. They may also be linked to the development of clinical depression.
While the brain calls the shots, the ecosystem of bacteria in our large intestine has a significant influence on how that organ works and performs. This is what we call the “gut-brain connection.” From immunodeficiency to skin conditions, cancer, and endocrine disorders, our gut bacteria seem to have a hand in all of it—including our memory, mood, and mental health.
We contain ecosystems that are necessary for proper body functioning, influenced by the food we eat. The average person has around 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract, and many of them are indispensable for proper digestion.
Junk food, with its salty, sweet, and deep-fried allure, presses the big red pleasure button in our nervous system. A diet high in overly-processed foods and sugars will decrease the amount of good bacteria in our gastro-intestinal tract, throwing off the entire biome’s balance. This leads the bad bacteria to dictate intense cravings for foods that only further destabilize our gut.
Such a diet can cause many problems, ranging from unintentional weight gain, bloating and gastrointestinal problems to autoimmune diseases, mood imbalances, anxiety, and depression—most of which can be traced back to inflammation.
Low inflammation is critical not only for brain health, but for physical health in general. Processed meats, artificial trans fats, refined sugars, and starches are all highly inflammatory foods. These staple ingredients in the fast food industry affect our brain chemistry and the neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation.
A diet full of junk food doesn’t just lower our quality of life; it can throw off the balance of our bodily systems from the inside out.
For both health and happiness, choose beneficial fats like avocados and nuts, fibrous prebiotic fruits and veggies, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Indulgences here and there are normal, and we shouldn’t berate ourselves for them. But we should keep in mind that the gut is the brain’s co-pilot, and that the quality of its functioning is heavily informed by the quality of food we give it.
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