Most people close to me know that nutrition plays a large role in my life, and I am very passionate about it. In the future, I would love to be able to have a job in which I can use my academic knowledge of neuroscience with my passion for nutrition to help improve others’ lives.
In America I feel like I constantly have to examine ingredient labels searching for chemicals that are unnecessary and harmful to my health. Often times food marketing is extremely misleading and without close examination, it is easy to fall trap to the commercialized mass production of lab created and modified food.
Arriving to Paris, I knew food is a large part of French culture, so I was interested to experience how the French viewed food and nutrition by living amongst their culture for the 5 weeks of this program.
Thus far, about 2 weeks into the program, I already see many clear distinctions between the two cultures. As I am sitting in a Parisian café writing this blog post, I cannot help but question whether it was just my imagination or if the food tasted fresher and cleaner. At home, most people would view my diet as very restricted since I shy away from most breads, dairy items, any processed foods, and added sugars. I do this because I feel the way these items have been made is not beneficial to my overall health. Since being in Paris, however, I feel fine eating some bread and cheese with my meals, common additions and cultural components of a French meal, as they taste fresher, cleaner and less processed than what one would find in a typical restaurant in America.
These observations along with my passion for nutrition and neuroscience, led me to want to delve further into specific components of food banned in France, as well as the rest of Europe, but commonly found in American food.
This led me to…High-Fructose Corn Syrup.
The research article I found was conducted at Emory, which I did not realize until after I read it and thought it would be good to include!
Many previous studies have concluded that high-fructose corn syrup contributes to obesity through metabolic dysregulation, which is an umbrella term to describe the many processes in the body that are disrupted and ways obesity can impact our health. Previous studies have also examined the ways in which it can affect stress, which then can contribute to anxiety and depression. This study, conducted by Harrel et al (2015), aimed at looking at the implications high-fructose corn syrup had on our mental health, specifically in adolescents with developing brains. The researchers were looking at whether this sweetener had long-term implications on our response to stress, and to test this, they took rats and gave some of them a diet for 10 weeks with high fructose corn syrup and others a standard diet. All the rats were put under situations that induced stress for 12 days. The researchers then tested all the mice with situations to see behaviors associated with anxiety or depression. Essentially the researchers
found that with a high fructose diet, not only could they increase stress hormones like previous studies showed, but they could also induce anxiety and depressive behaviors, as well as induce changes in gene expression in the brain, specifically the area called the hypothalamus.
It is important to note that when replicated in adult rats, researchers found that the sweetener did not have an effect. Thus, fructose is affecting the adolescent developing brain on an intricate level and can lead to future poor mental health outcomes.
A strength that I liked of this article is that it tested adult rats, so that we could specifically see the danger is fructose consumption on a developing individuals brain. I would have liked to see a diet that contained high fructose corn syrup, along with other well-known super foods to see whether an exceptionally healthy diet could negate the harmful effects of high-fructose corn syrup. Not a limitation, but rather a question this article brought up for me, is replicating the exact study, but substituting high-fructose corn syrup for one of the many other supposedly harmful substances found in foods banned in Europe but not America like Stevia, food dyes, GMO’s and certain pesticides.
Being a student in college, I am surrounded by many individuals close to me who confide about their personal experiences with anxiety and depression. The amount is astounding, and it should not be the norm. As someone interested in both nutrition and the brain, this leads me to question whether diet plays a role in this. Depression and anxiety are widespread problems. Having something commonly present in the food we consume that has been shown by this study to induce depression and anxiety cannot be beneficial to our mental health. Do Parisians have an advantage with not having to worry that a harmful chemical exists in their food?
For now and the rest of my time in Paris, I will enjoy eating without worry, especially all the baguettes made from fresh, local ingredients, cheese not modified in a lab, and dessert without high-fructose corn syrup. However, once back in the United States, I hope that the regulations soon catch up with the science, so that I do not have to worry that something harmful to my mental health is present in the food I put into my body.
Harrell, C. S., Burgado, J., Kelly, S. D., Johnson, Z. P., & Neigh, G. N. (2015). High-fructose diet during periadolescent development increases depressive-like behavior and remodels the hypothalamic transcriptome in male rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 62, 252–264. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.025
Inside Neuroscience: Studies Explore How Diet Affects Brain Structure, Function. (2015) Society for Neuroscience. https://www.sfn.org/News-and-Calendar/News-and-Calendar/News/Spotlight/2015/Inside-Neuroscience-Studies-Explore-How-Diet-Affects-Brain-Structure-Function
Images not my own from Creative Commons