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Mental health and diet are closely related, and research has shown that food can play a big role in emotional regulation, concentration, mental clarity, and mood.

More than 17 million American adults report struggling with depression, a mental health condition that can be triggered or worsened by a diet high in fast food or junk food. Several studies have shown a connection between depression and the consumption of sweets, fried foods, and processed or refined foods.

But how exactly are depression and fast food linked? There are several reasons junk food and highly processed food lead to apathy or a dampened mood, including the following:

  • Fluctuating blood sugar. Dramatic variations in blood sugar—such as those caused by the spikes and drops after eating a meal high in sugar or carbohydrates—can lead to mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
  • Lethargy. A meal high in fat and calories and low in nutrients can cause feelings of sluggishness and lethargy because the digestive system is in overdrive.
  • Lack of nutrients. Certain nutrients, such as B vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids, help maintain mood. A diet that is predominately fast food means those essential nutrients are not entering the body.
  • Imbalance of microbiome. Consuming unhealthy fats and high amounts of sugar can throw off the gut microbiome. Most of the body’s serotonin, known as the “happy hormone,” is created in the digestive system, so an unhealthy gut can lead to an unhealthy mental state.

Luckly, many of the effects of eating too much fast food can be undone. Certain foods have been shown to boost mood and mental clarity, including nuts, dark chocolate, leafy greens, blueberries, chia seeds and fatty fish. If you are looking for a diet that will help balance and improve your mental state, talk to a medical professional.