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The link between fast food and your brain

The explosion and accessibility of fast-food restaurants have significantly increased the intake of processed and fast foods for Australians. It’s no secret that everything you consume will impact your health in one way or another. And when it comes to the consumption of burgers, pizza, fried chicken, and fries, unfortunately, it’s your mental health you could be putting at risk.

Convenient foods that are quick and tasty in the short term aren’t always a good choice for your mental health in the long term. So, let’s look at what is considered “fast food”? And how does fast food impact your mental health?

What is considered “fast food”?

Fast foods are described as foods that are easily accessible and quickly prepared for immediate consumption. Typically, fast foods are a more affordable alternative to traditionally prepared home-style meals. While home-styled meals are normally healthy and bursting with nutrients, fast foods are rich in highly-processed meats, refined carbohydrates, sodium, unhealthy fats, cholesterol, and poor in essential nutrients and dietary fibers.

Think of the meals served at your local burger joint, takeaway pizza store, fried chicken outlet, or the smorgasbord of options available on your preferred food delivery service app. These are prime examples of fast foods. They may momentarily suppress your appetite and be fulfilling in terms of flavour. But they’re usually calorically dense and nutritionally empty. It’s common knowledge that frequent consumption of fast foods is linked to weight gain, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. A lesser-known fact is that fast food consumption can also negatively impact your mental health.

How does fast food impact mental health?

Consuming a diet comprised primarily of fast foods can starve your brain of the nutrients it needs to function at its optimal capacity. Not to mention fast foods generally skimp on feeding the body the good stuff it needs to thrive, like protein, fibre, and essential vitamins and minerals. When you take this into consideration, it’s easier to understand how frequent fast-food consumption can make an individual more prone to mental health issues of depression and anxiety.

Here’s what science has to say on the matter:

The findings of a meta-analysis on dietary patterns and depression risk state “A dietary pattern characterised by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy, antioxidants, and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression.” Whereas “A dietary pattern characterised by a high consumption of red meat and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes, and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”

In terms of high-sugar foods and beverages that are commonly available at fast food venues, this study of 8,000 adults found men who regularly consumed 67 grams of sugar daily were 23% more likely to develop depression. Sugar is also a notorious cause of anxious and irritable moods due to adrenaline spiking when blood glucose levels drop.

A team of scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada conducted a study that revealed the frequent consumption of commercial baked goods (fairy cakes, croissants, doughnuts etc.) and fast food (hamburgers, hotdogs, and pizza) increased the risk of developing depression. Further to this, a dose-response relationship was observed, meaning that the more fast food consumed, the greater the risk of depression.


Fast Food Pattern and Cardiometabolic Disorders: A Review of Current Studies (nih.gov)

Western Diet: Implications for Brain Function and Behavior (nih.gov)

Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study | Scientific Reports (nature.com)

Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis – ScienceDirect


This blog is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.