If you are what you eat, what does your dinner plate say about your brain health? You’re probably already familiar with the different nutrients that power your body – vitamin C for your immune system, protein for post-workout recovery – but did you know that certain foods and nutrients can impact your brain health?
It’s true. Our brains are made up of the things we eat, and in order to keep your body running smoothly, the brain has massive energetic demands. Translation: you need nutrient-packed foods to fuel your brain, so that you can think clearly, reason logically, and remember key details in your everyday life. Leafy greens, for example, are associated with fewer memory problems and slower cognitive decline (as if you needed another reason to make that kale smoothie).
And on the other hand, there are also certain foods that slow your brain way down. These foods or ingredients might make you feel sluggish or like you’re constantly have a brain freeze – like when you can’t remember the name of that actor on your television, or you’re blanking on who you’re supposed to meet for dinner.
So, what foods or ingredients should you avoid in order to prioritize your brain health? Consider your “do not add to cart” list. Here are the worst foods for your brain and your memory.
Refined and added sugar
Your brain loves sugar – but too much sugar can be detrimental to your mental clarity and your brain health. In fact, too much sugar too quickly can lead to neuroinflammation, which in turn might lead to Alzheimer’s.
Another negative effect of refined sugar is memory issues. A study conducted by the University of New South Wales concluded that chronic sugar intake triggers changes to an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important for both memory and stress. A UCLA study, meanwhile, found that a high-sugar diet sabotages learning and memory ability. (Learn more about sugar brain fog here.)
Since refined sugar (like white sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, Sweet’n Low, and Splenda) is a major neurotoxin, make a concentrated effort to avoid it..Instead, swap in natural sugar like coconut sugar, honey maple sugar, stevia, or monk fruit.
Conventionally grown and genetically modified foods
Our food supply has become infiltrated with “food-like” products. These products directly contribute to the dysfunction of our brains: they are stripped of nutrients during the production process, they promote their own overconsumption, and they drive inflammation.
Most deceptive, however, may be the “bonus” toxic additives – the syrups, industrial oils, and emulsifiers. These additives directly and indirectly contribute to an activated immune system, driving anxiety, depression, suboptimal cognitive performance, and long-term risk for disease.
We are constantly exposed to substances that mess with our hormones. Up to 25 percent of the pesticides sprayed on non-organic fruit and vegetables are known to disrupt the body’s estrogen balance. Research has shown that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals can cause disruptions to your neurological system and your brain.
So instead of conventionally grown or genetically modified foods, your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables. That’s because synthetic agricultural chemicals are not permissible under the USDA organic rules.
Nitrates are compounds made up of nitrogen and oxygen. They’re naturally found in beets, leafy greens, celery, and other plants. When consumed in plant form, nitrates are great for regulating blood pressure and increasing circulation.
So, why are we telling you to avoid nitrates? Nitrates are often added in preserved meats and processed meats, and when consumed via these processed foods, nitrates are found to drive and worsen depression. Nitrates may also be associated with episodes of mania.
Bottom line: nitrates on their own aren’t bad for your brain health. It all depends on the source of your nitrates. To optimize your brain health, avoid processed and preserved meats with nitrates in them (and keep eating your leafy greens).
Artificial trans fats
There are two types of trans fats: naturally-occurring and artificial. Naturally-occurring trans fats are typically found in animal products, like dairy and meat; these quantities of trans fats are pretty small.
Artificial trans fats, on the other hand, are made synthetically in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Artificial trans fats are commonly found in margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils are shown to be linked with higher levels of aggression. According to Psychology Today, “Studies have shown that high levels of trans fats may reduce serotonin production in the brain, leading to depression as well as adversely affecting memory.” Trans fats may also be linked to dementia.
Your solution? Avoid processed and fried foods, plus foods with ingredient lists that include partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or esterified fats. Instead, get your healthy fats from naturally-occurring sources, like olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, nuts, and butter.
Curious about what other foods to avoid in order to optimize your brain health and mental clarity? At Wild Health, our advanced testing and analysis can give you detailed insight into every facet of your health. With that information, we’re able to give you specific advice and a clear roadmap into supporting your brain health.
Ready to get started? Take a quick 5-question quiz, and we’ll recommend a personalized plan just for you.