Without any doubt, eating is among the greatest pleasures in life. And that’s not only because of the flavor of the food itself but due to the fact the act of eating is generally associated with good moments, like meeting friends, a family meal or just like that break at work for a snack or a cup of coffee.

To relieve the tension of everyday life, it’s common to seek tasty food, laden with sugars, fats, and sodium, also called hyper-palatable foods, in search of those minutes of happiness that only a pasty or a piece of chocolate cake can bring.

These hyper-palatable foods are an irresistible recipe for our brain, for they act on our reward system, stimulating the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter of pleasure. That is why when we ingest a bar of chocolate we get that feeling of satisfaction – it’s pure chemistry.

But did you know the frequent intake of this type of food over time can worsen your mood instead of improving it?

Ultra-processed foods, which are rich in sugars and refined flour, and saturated fats increase the formation of free radicals, oxidative stress, and the inflammation of the neurons, which in turn negatively affects the function of these cells. Simplistically speaking, it’s like using adulterated gas as fuel to our brain – over time, the performance will worsen.

Furthermore, these foods can decrease the population of “good” bacteria in the intestinal flora, through the same mechanisms mentioned above. These microorganisms help in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for regulating, sleep, appetite. and our mood.

Studies that have compared populations that consumed the Mediterranean diet, rich in legumes, olive oil, nuts, grains and fish, the traditional Japanese diet to those that have adopted the Western diet based on ultra-processed foods have shown that an incidence of depressive and anxiety disorders from 25% to 35% higher in the latter.

Whoever has tried to switch from this kind of diet to a healthier type knows what I am talking about. In a short time, we feel a lasting sensation of lightness and pleasure, which is much better than that fleeting enjoyment of eating some treat that, over time, will demand a high cost on our physical and mental health. As with everything in life, moderation is essential.

by Paulo Gustavo Ribeiro