Our brains on bad food

May 3, 2018

Avocados, berries, and dark chocolate (score!) do the head good. But for every brain food out there, there’s another food that’s ready to sap your smarts.

We knew that junk food changes our waistlines, but did you also know that it has been shown to also negatively affect our memory and cognition?

How the foods we eat affects how we feel

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.

So while there are delicious foods that are packed with head-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, junk foods are ready to bring your brain and body down. Here are a few to consider avoiding.

Four foods to ditch

Sugary drinks

A high intake of sugary drinks may increase the risk of dementia. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be especially harmful, causing brain inflammation and impairing memory and learning.

Refined carbs

A high intake of refined carbs with a high glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) may impair memory and intelligence, as well as increase the risk of dementia. These include sugars and highly processed grains like white flour.

Trans fats

While trans fats occur naturally in animal products like meat and dairy, these are not a major concern. It’s industrially produced trans fats, also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils, that are a problem. Trans fats may be associated with impaired memory and the risk of Alzheimer’s, but the evidence is mixed. Cutting out trans fats completely and increasing the unsaturated fats in your diet may be a good strategy.

Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many soft drinks and sugar-free products. It has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems.

Simple steps for a healthier brain

Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a “clean” diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar.

Try replacing the heavily processed foods with fresh fruits and veggies, which have inflammation fighting antioxidants including polyphenols and vitamin E. Oily fish and avocados are great sources of omega-3 fatty acid which boosts neurogenesis.

A healthy gut has been strongly linked to diminishing feelings of depression and anxiety. Probiotic-heavy foods like yogurt and Orgain Superfoods powder are great ways to help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Early studies are also linking collagen supplements to improving gut health.

Want to take brain health to the next level? Aerobic exercise not only helps us lose weight and also boosts neuroplasticity in the brain.

So by taking steps to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle we are keeping both our body and brains in good shape.

Photo by Thomas Kelley

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