Eating for a Healthy Brain

Image of a glass of soda next to a pizza

If there is one thing that the Western diet loves, it’s sugar. Stroll down any isle in any supermarket and you’ll find sugar within most products. When it is in a natural state, such as with fruit or honey, sugar is not much of a concern. The problem is that refined sugars are being placed in a majority of the products that are readily available to you.

Here are foods to avoid:

Sugar Based Drinks

A high intake of sugary drinks not only expands your waistline and boosts your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease — it also has a negative effect on your brain. An excessive intake of sugary drinks increases the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, which has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, higher sugar levels in the blood can increase the risk of dementia, even in people without diabetes.

One of the main reasons is that many sugary drinks are produced using high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which consists of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. A high intake of fructose can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood fats, diabetes and arterial dysfunction. These aspects of metabolic syndrome may lead to an increase in the long-term risk of developing dementia.

Some alternatives to sugary drinks include water, unsweetened iced tea, vegetable juice and unsweetened dairy products.

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Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods are often high in sugar, added fats and salt. They include foods such as chips, sweets, instant noodles, microwave popcorn, store-bought sauces and ready-made meals. These foods are usually high in calories and low in other nutrients. They’re exactly the kinds of foods that cause weight gain, which can have a negative effect on your brain health.

The nutrient composition of processed foods in the Western diet negatively affect the brain and contribute to the development of degenerative diseases.

One of the ways processed foods negatively impact the brain is by reducing the production of a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This molecule is found in various parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, and it’s important for long-term memory, learning and the growth of new neurons. Therefore, any reduction can have negative impacts on these functions.

You can avoid processed foods by eating mostly fresh, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat and fish. Additionally, a Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to protect against cognitive decline.

Trans Fats

While manufacturers use trans fats to extend the shelf life and enhance the flavor of their food, it comes at the cost of your brain’s health. Research has found that a higher intake of trans fats—found in processed foods like cake, cookies, and muffins—can cause plaque to build up in your brain, increasing your risk of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Swap the pre-packaged desserts for dark chocolate, and trade your microwave popcorn for air-popped popcorn, instead.

Your diet affects more than just your belly fat. What you eat will either bolster your brainpower or diminish it—and who would knowingly choose to feel dumber?

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