Energy intake and mental health

Energy, often referred to as the calorie content of a food, is derived from the carbohydrate, protein, fat, and alcohol found in foods and beverages. Although vitamins and minerals are essential to the body, they provide no energy. The human brain is metabolically very active and uses about 20 to 30% of a person's energy intake at rest. Individuals who do not eat adequate calories from food to meet their energy requirements will experience changes in mental functioning. Simply skipping breakfast is associated with lower fluency and problem-solving ability, especially in individuals who are already slightly malnourished. A hungry person may also experience lack of energy or motivation.

Chronic hunger and energy deprivation profoundly affects mood and responsiveness. The body responds to energy deprivation by shutting or slowing down nonessential functions, altering activity levels, hormonal levels, oxygen and nutrient transport, the body's ability to fight infection, and many other bodily functions that directly or indirectly affect brain function. People with a consistently low energy intake often feel apathetic, sad, or hopeless.

Developing fetuses and young infants are particularly susceptible to brain damage from malnutrition. The extent of the damage depends on the timing of the energy deprivation in relation to stage of development. Malnutrition early in life has been associated with below-normal intelligence, and functional and cognitive defects.

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