To have a healthy body and mind, you have to have a healthy brain as the engine. After reviewing many top sources of lifestyle and medical information (such as RD.com, healthline.com, Women’s Health Magazine, and the Huffington Post), Makenzie Jones (pictured) discovered a general pattern of foods and drinks to avoid in order to protect your brain.
Highly processed foods, in general, are hard to avoid, but they made up of a variety of harmful ingredients and lack nutrients. In the processing, manufacturers add sugar, fat, salt, and overall calories, which can be seen in the following categories with their specific effects.
Although trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, are being eradicated by the FDA, they are still present in many foods. The trans fats to beware of are not the naturally-occurring ones found in animal products, but those that are industrially produced. These are found in processed foods like cake, cookies, chips, and a plethora of other foods on grocery store aisles in order to preserve their shelf life. These fats cause plaque build-up, increasing risk of memory loss, brain-volume loss, and Alzheimer’s.
Another type of fat, saturated fat, can also be harmful to the brain. This is commonly found in fast food, especially fatty meats and dairy. Increased saturated fat hampers the body’s ability to fight off Alzheimer’s-causing plaque. Added sodium in fast food can cause an increase in blood pressure and decrease long-term cognitive abilities. Cheese is a large source of saturated fat found in fast foods such as burgers, pizza, and who-knows-what-else that people slather cheese on, that causes inflammation and memory loss. The hypothalamus region of the brain which helps control body-weight regulation is also affected.
Similar to and often included in the category of fast food is fried food—doughnuts, chicken, French fries, stir fry, just to name a few. These also contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, causing weight gain, and brain size and performance loss.
These are carbs that have been bleached and/or altered removing fiber, vitamins, and minerals – including white bread, pasta, rice, sugar, and many more. These foods have a high glycemic index (GI) which means that the body absorbs them quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar and insulin. Over time, this causes inflammation in the hippocampus—the region of the brain that involves memory and hunger and fullness cues. This is yet another factor linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as increased risk of diabetes, depression, and poor emotional health.
Although it is advised to eat seafood twice per week, beware of the possibility of mercury, a heavy metal found in tuna and other predatory fish that is poisonous to human’s neurological system.
Added sugar is as abundant in Americans’ diets as is it harmful. It affects everything directly from blood sugar levels to more indirectly, emotional issues. Sugar can impair memory and overall cognitive performance by interfering with neurotransmitters and triggering inflammation. Specifically, aspartame, an artificial sweetener, has been found to affect these and the brain’s vulnerability to oxidative stress.
A major source of added sugar that is often overlooked is drinks—fruit drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, smoothies, etc. Just because it is perceived as “healthy,” it may contain more sugar than a milkshake. For example, a Naked Juice Mighty Mango has 57 grams of sugar, while a small vanilla shake at Sonic has 49 grams. Many sugary drinks also contain high fructose corn syrup which is linked to high blood pressure and fats, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and aspects of metabolic syndrome.
A final item that tops the list of brain-busters is alcohol. It can be consumed in moderation, but in excess, alcohol can reduce brain volume, make changes in metabolism and neurotransmitters, and lead to a vitamin B1 deficiency, ultimately causing brain damage.