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Junk Food: Can What We Eat Change How We Behave?

Posted Oct 22 2008 4:37pm
If we all changed our eating habits and started eating all the "good" things for us, how would that change us as people?

There have been testimonials from people who have changed their diets, and have had overwhelming satisfaction with the improvement of their behavior.

Two of these individuals had their diets changed while in prison. They proceeded to tell "what it was like to find that good nutrition was their bridge from the wrong side of the law and a frustrated, unhappy life to a vibrant and useful one" (Dubisch, 1999, p.329).

There have been studies done on junk food and behavior, and more specifically, on antisocial behavior. One of these studies was conducted in Coosa Valley Regional Detention Center in Alabama. This study involved taking away junk food and soft drinks and replacing them with nutritious snacks and fruit juices. They also eliminated high-sugar content desserts and cereals. Out of 28 juvenile offenders who were in for a short stay, who experienced unmodified low-sugar diets, 35% resulted in a lower incidence of antisocial behavior.

Out of 39 Long-term offenders, 45% resulted in a lower incidence of antisocial behavior. The improvements in behavior may have been due to reduced sugar, the addition of vitamins and minerals, the elimination of food additives, or the synergistic effect between sugar and additives (Schoenthaler, 1983). The important thing to realize here is that a change had taken place. Replacement of junk foods with nutritional meals and supplements had a significant effect on these individuals’ behavior.

Junk food does not only have to be a cause of a problem but can also be an addition to an already existing problem.
A study with a child who was exposed to crack through his parents experienced very radical and aggressive behavior. Through therapy, his aggression had been almost completely eradicated. There were still a couple of trouble spots. He had occasional periods of anti-social behavior or extreme hyperactivity, especially in school.

His grandmother said she thought her grandson was abnormally sensitive to sugar and "junk food" and when these kinds of snacks were dispensed at school, "he climbed the walls"(Burch, 1992, p.4). With this young boy, they took all sugar from him for several days and slowly added sugar back into his diet to research the effects it had. No results had been stated, although it was said that their pilot work suggested that crack babies are hypersensitive to a number of substances, and sugar may be one of them (Burch, 1992).

Can it affect adults too?
It affects everybody young or old. We know this from studies of people who already suffer from a pre-existing problem. Nutrition and the impact of junk food have been linked to behavioral problems such as panic disorder and ADHD. The reduction in junk food such as chocolate, artificial sweeteners, and carbohydrates has been known to decrease symptoms in both of these disorders (Whaley & Wong, 1999).

There was a study done on panic disorder, which shows us that side effects from junk food can arise and be the cause of much distress in an adult life also.

Caffeine ingestion and dietary habits are both known to produce somatic sensations (sweating, tremors, tachycardia, numbness, and dizziness) associated with panic attacks, and both have been linked to panic disorders (Salzer, Berenbaum, 1993).

A study was done with a woman who suffered from panic disorder. She didn't have time in her life to eat regular meals so she ate a lot of junk food, which was high in carbohydrates. Salzer and Berenbaum hypothesized that this woman’s caffeine ingestion and dietary habits led to somatic sensations, which when misinterpreted, led to her panic. By changing her diet and eliminating the foods that were high in carbohydrates, her panic attacks went from several in one week to not having any panic attacks in one week (Salzer, Berenbaum, 1993). The somatic symptoms listed above would definitely have an effect on anyone’s behavior.

Reactions to these symptoms could possibly take on any type of emotional response not, just panic. One could also experience anger, excitability, or anti-social behavior. This is why a healthy well balanced diet is important, to maintain proper body functioning which in turn provides a healthy state of mind and acceptable behavior.

I feel that nutrition and behavior need to be studied more in depth. Research on this issue is very little and we need to take it more seriously. Today wellness and prevention should be our main focus. What we eat and how we act are two major factors that determine our physiological and psychological well being. We need to find out more about how one affects the other.

There is every indication that junk food is a factor in any type of abnormal behavior, but there are few hard facts yet.

References and
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