Consuming too much fast food can cause irreversible brain damage, warn health experts

Fast food consumption is often linked to weight gain and elevated glucose levels, which can increase your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. According to a study, consuming too much junk food can also cause irreversible brain damage.

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) said brain damage may occur by the time you reach middle age, especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle and eat a lot of fast food.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to improve your eating habits and boost your overall well-being.

Fast food consumption linked to greater risk of Type 2 diabetes

According to a review by scientists, people today are consuming about 650 kilocalories more daily than they were in the 1970s. This is equivalent to a fast-food meal that includes a burger, fries and soda.

A kilocalorie (kcal) is equal to one Calorie, with a capital “C,” while 1,000 calories with a lowercase “c” is equal to one kilocalorie. This amount is about one-quarter of the recommended daily food energy needs for men and less than one-third for women.

Nicolas Cherbuin, the lead author of the study and a professor at ANU, said that the extra amount of energy that people consume daily compared to 50 years ago suggests that many people follow an unhealthy diet. Now, people consume too much of the wrong kind of food, such as fast food.

Cherbuin warned that not making changes to your eating habits can increase overweight and obesity risk, along with more cases of serious diseases.

The review was conducted to find out “how normal, but elevated blood glucose levels in individuals without Type 2 diabetes contribute to neurodegenerative processes, and how the main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, including obesity, lack of physical activity and poor diet, modulate these effects.”


In most cases, “high normal” blood sugar levels progress to impaired fasting glucose. In time, this progresses into Type 2 diabetes. Impaired glucose metabolism is linked to neurodegeneration, which impairs cognitive function.

Additionally, these factors don’t begin at old age but much earlier, so following a healthy lifestyle in young adulthood may offer protective benefits against cognitive decline as you age.

Study findings suggest that the idea that Type 2 diabetes is linked to neurodegeneration, cognitive impairment, dementia and mortality is not new. But these associations are often considered to be most relevant in old age, even though data suggests “that the pathological processes at play are initiated in mid-adulthood or before.”

The researchers advised that the pathological cascade leading to higher FBG (fasting blood glucose) and ultimately Type 2 diabetes often begins “decades before and starts impacting cerebral health and cognition from its onset.” (Related: High-sugar diet increases pregnant women’s diabetes and liver disease risk.)

Having poor eating habits may shrink your brain

Data shows that over 39 percent of the world population is overweight and 13 percent is obese. These shocking figures are triple what it was in 1975, but this percentage is even higher in developed areas like Europe and America, where prevalence is 50 to 60 percent.

According to the study, both diet and physical activity are the main determinants of adiposity or being overweight or obese. In turn, obesity was linked to negative changes in the brain.

The researchers noted that persistently elevated FBG is linked to “brain shrinkage, progressive loss of function across several cognitive domains, the development of dementia and ultimately, premature death.”

Type 2 diabetes main risk factors contribute in a major way to these effects and the condition represents the greatest risk to brain health.

Both diabetes and higher fasting glucose levels are also linked to lower total brain volume. According to a study published in the journal Radiology, obesity may lead to alterations in brain structure and can shrink certain regions.

In men, a higher total body fat percentage was linked to lower brain gray matter volume. Particularly, a 5.5 percent greater total body fat percentage was linked to 3,162 mm3 lower gray matter volume.

Gray matter is the outer layer of your brain linked to high-level brain functions like language, memory, problem-solving, personality, planning and judgment.

Obesity has also been linked to changes in white matter microstructure, which may be related to cognitive function.

Researchers at Loughborough University in England explained that carrying excess weight around your midsection may affect brain health. It can also cause a decline in brain volume. For this study, researchers worked with 9,652 participants with an average age of 55.4, plus or minus 7.5 years

The participants received scores for both body mass index (BMI), a flawed formula that divides your weight by the square of your height and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR).

Those with a BMI and WHR in a healthy range had an average gray matter brain volume of 798 cubic centimeters. However, this decreased to 786 cubic centimeters in people with a high BMI and high WHR.

It’s never too late to improve your eating habits

If you eat too much junk food, but want to boost your brain health and overall well-being, you can start improving your eating habits now. Start by eating more whole, unprocessed foods.

The study authors warned that you may begin to lose neurons and neuron function early in life if you eat poorly. Unfortunately, these changes may be difficult or even impossible to counteract once the damage is done.

Cherbuin warned that it may be too late for you once you reach your 60s. Those who have dementia and other signs of cognitive dysfunction, like brain shrinkage, have increased their risk by consuming too much bad food and not exercising enough.

Cherbuin advised people to follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly as early as possible, preferably in childhood, but even doing so by early adulthood will offer health benefits.

Tips for eating well and improving your brain health

The study shows that eating a lot of processed fast foods can damage your brain, but you can boost your brain health by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. A balanced diet is also key to your mental health and the increased consumption of processed food increases the risk of anxiety and depression.

Follow the tips below to reduce your intake of bad foods and improve your eating habits:

Don’t go cold turkey

If you eat a lot of junk food, take things slow. Instead of eating fast food every day, treat yourself to a burger only two days a week.

The rest of the week, eat meals cooked at home and made with whole foods. Once you get used to cooking balanced meals, stop eating fast food.

Focus on saving money

Eating less junk food and fast food can also help you save money. After all, buying lunch at work every day adds up, while you can save money if you prepare lunch at home and bring it to work instead.

Not sure how much you’ve spent on fast food? Track your expenses with an app. You can also save more money by taking advantage of store sales and using coupons when buying groceries.

Make lower-calorie versions of your favorite dishes

If you’re eating out, choose a healthier version of your favorite dish. You can also try making a vegan version at home or make low-calorie ingredient swaps.

Order the smallest serving on the menu

While dining out, stick to smaller servings. If you’re worried about a small meal not being enough, get a large size of a healthy main dish like a salad, with only a small size of the fattening order, such as French fries.

Drink water instead of soda

If you skip sugary beverages like soda, you can enjoy your cheat day treat. When you’re eating, drink water instead.

Plan ahead

If you eat a lot of fast food because you don’t have enough time to cook at home, make time by planning ahead.

Making meals at home ahead of time will ensure you’re not tempted to eat fast food and waste money. During weekends, double or triple a recipe you’re making and freeze the food in single-serve containers.

This ensures that when you’re craving something, you can reheat the food and enjoy a healthy meal.

Boost your brain health and overall well-being by following a balanced diet and avoiding junk food.

Watch the video below for a healthy vegan pumpkin pancake recipe.

This video is from the CookingIna channel on

More related stories:

“Ultra-processed” foods and beverages increase risk of disease and early death; eating more whole foods is key to improving overall health.

Cut the junk: Eating junk food can give you food allergies.

Follow a balanced diet to boost overall health: Over 80,000 cancer cases a year are linked to poor diets, warn researchers.

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