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Adolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

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AAdolescent Development: Why What They Eat is so Important.

Thriving during the teenage years depends on so many things and a growing body of research is demonstrating the critical role of diet in adolescent development. 

A number of studies have now found a definite link between diet and mental and emotional well-being. If an adolescent in your life needs another very convincing reason to eat healthy, regular meals – here are two of them…

Diet and Cognitive Function

An Australian study, published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychology, has found an association between dietary patterns at 14 years of age and cognitive function (memory, learning) three years later at age 17. 

The Study. What They Did.

602 participants, all 14 years old, had their dietary patterns identified as either being ‘healthy’ (high fruit and vegetables) or ‘Western’ (high intakes of take-away food, red and processed meat, soft drink, fried and refined food).

What They Found.

When tested on various cognitive tasks three years later, adolescents who followed a more Western diet were found to have diminished cognitive performance. Specifically, they showed longer reaction times and higher errors in a delayed recall task.

High intake of crisps, red meat and fried potato also had a negative impact on cognitive function.

In contrast, a higher intake of fruit and leafy green vegetables was found to be positively associated with improved cognitive performance.

Diet, Depression and Anxiety

Separate research out of Emory University has found that a high fructose diet can also compromise adolescent development by:

  • increasing symptoms of anxiety;
  • increasing symptoms of depression;
  • changing the way the brain responds to stress; and
  • causing long-term changes in metabolism and behaviour.

Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables but it’s also added to many processed foods and drinks. 

Adolescence is a critical time for brain development so an adolescent brain is particularly vulnerable.

At this stage research has only been conducted in rats, chosen because they have a similar genetic and biological makeup to humans. Results are often replicated in human trials.

 The Study. What They Did.

As part of the research conducted at  Emory University, adolescent and adult rats were given either a standard or a high fructose diet.

What They Found.

After 10 weeks the adolescent rats had a different stress hormone response to a stressful situation. The adult rats who were given the high fructose diet did not show this effect.

In the adolescent rats, a genetic pathway in the brain that helps regulate the brain’s response to stress was also changed.

 

And finally …

Further research is humans is necessary, but there is a strong sign that a high fructose diet throughout adolescence worsens the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and changes the way the body and the brain respond to stress.

The importance of a healthy diet to physical well-being has long been established but we are learning more and more about it affects mental health. Eating well during adolescence can be the edge they need to thrive. 

 

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