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The worst foods for your brain

brain health nutrition Jul 26, 2022

What are you eating that is damaging your brain?

Of all the different parts of the body, the brain is the most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of a poor diet. Some foods will make your memory and mood worse, and increase the likelihood of developing dementia, so should be avoided at all costs.

There are 55 million people living with dementia worldwide. And this number is predicted to treble to 150 million by 2050.

Luckily, you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by changing your diet and lifestyle. And a really good place to start is cutting certain foods out of your diet that are really bad for your brain.

So I am going to share the 7 worst foods for your brain to help you move towards a brain-healthy diet.Your brain is the most metabolically hungry organ in your body. That’s why it’s essential to keep your brain working in optimum condition with a healthy diet.

1. Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks like pop, sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit juice.

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.

Higher sugar levels in the blood can also increase the risk of dementia, even in people without diabetes.

A primary component of many sugary drinks is high fructose com syrup (HCFS) which consist 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.

Studies have shown that a high fructose intake can lead to insulin resistance in the brain, as well as a reduction in brain function, memory, learning and the formation of new brain cells.

One study in rats found that a diet high in sugar increased brain inflammation and impaired memory.

Another study found that animals fed on a high-fructose diet gained more weight, had worse blood sugar control and a higher risk of metabolic disorders and memory impairments

The results suggest that a high intake of fructose from sugary drinks may have additional negative effects on the brain, beyond the effects of sugar.

Some alternatives to sugary drinks include water, which is the most brain-healthy drink, green tea, and vegetable juice.

2. Refined Carbohydrates 

These include sugars and highly processed grains, such as white flour.

These types of carbs generally have a high glycemic index. This means your body digests them quickly, causing a spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Also, when eaten in larger quantities, these foods often have a high glycemic load. The glycemic load refers to how much a food raises your blood sugar levels, based on the serving size.

Foods that have a high-glycemic index and high glycemic load have been found to impair brain function.

Research has shown that just a single meal with a high glycemic load can impair memory in both children and adults.

Another study in healthy university students found that those who had a higher intake of fat and refined sugar also had poorer memory.

This effect on memory may be due to inflammation of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involve din learning and memory, as well as responsiveness to hunger and fullness cues.

Inflammation is recognised as a risk factor for degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

For example, one study looked at elderly people who consumed more than 58% of their daily calories in the form of carbohydrates. The study found they had almost double the risk of mild mental impairment and dementia.

Healthy, lower-glycemic index carbs include foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.

3. Foods High in Trans Fats

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that can have a detrimental effect on brain health.

Trans fats occur naturally in animal products like meat and dairy, and are not a great for the brain. But industrially produced trans fats, also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils, are a major problem for brain health.

These artificial trans fats can be found in shortening, margarine, frosting, snack foods, ready-made cakes and prepackaged biscuits.

Studies have found that when people consume higher amounts of trans fats, they tend to have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, poorer memory, lower brain volume and cognitive decline.

Trans fat have a negative effect on many other aspects of health, including heart health and inflammation. There is also a positive association between saturated fat intake and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,

But diets high in omega -3 fatty acids have been found to help protect against cognitive decline. Omega-3s increase the secretion of anti-inflammatory compounds in the brain and can have a protective effect, especially in older adults.

You can increase the amount of omega-3  in your diet by eating foods like fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.

4. Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods tend to be high in sugar, added fats and salt.

They include foods like crisps, sweets, instant noodles, microwave popcorn, shop-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.

A study in 243 people found increased fat around the organs, or visceral fat, is associated with brain tissue damage. Another study in 130 people found there’s a measurable decrease in brain tissue even in the early stages of metabolic syndrome.

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

A study including 52 people found that a diet high in unhealthy ingredients resulted in lower levels of sugar metabolism in the brain and a decrease in brain tissue. These factors are thought to be markers for Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the ways processed foods may 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.

5. Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in many sugar-free products.

People often choose to use it when trying to lose weight or avoid sugar when they have diabetes. It is also found in many commercial products not specifically targeted at people with diabetes.

However, this widely used sweetener has also been linked to behavioural and cognitive problems, though the research has been controversial.

Some scientists have suggested that it may cause negative effects on learning and emotions, which have been observed when aspartame is consumed in excess.

One study looked at the effects of a high-aspartame diet and found participants were more irritable, had a higher rate of depression and performed worse on cognitive tests.

Another study found people who consumed artificially sweetened soft drinks had an increased risk of stroke and dementia.

Cutting out artificial sweeteners and excess sugar from your diet altogether is one really effective way to look after your brain health.

6. Alcohol

Excessive consumption of alcohol can have damaging effects on the brain.

Chronic alcohol use results in a reduction in brain volume, metabolic changes and disruption of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals the brain uses to communicate.

People with alcoholism often have a deficiency in vitamin B1. This can lead to a brain disorder called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which in turn can develop into Korsakoff’s syndrome.

This syndrome is characterised by severe brain shrinkage, memory loss, disturbances in eyesight, confusion and unsteadiness.

Excessive consumption of alcohol can also have negative effects in non-alcoholics.

“Binge drinking” can cause the brain to interpret emotional cues differently than normal. For example, people have a reduced sensitivity to sad faces and an increased sensitivity to angry faces.

It’s thought that these changes to emotion recognition may be a cause of alcohol-related aggression.

The effect of alcohol abuse in teenagers can also be particularly damaging, as the brain is still developing. Teenagers who drink alcohol have abnormalities in brain structure, function and behaviour, compared to those who don’t.

Another effect of alcohol is the disruption of sleep patterns. Drinking a large amount of alcohol before bed is associated with poor sleep quality, which can lead to chronic sleep deprivation -  a big risk factor for many chronic conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Overall, you should avoid excessive alcohol consumption at any age, but especially if you’re a teenager or young adult, and avoid binge drinking entirely.

7. Fish High in Mercury

Mercury is a is a heavy metal contaminant and neurological poison that can be stored for a long time in animal tissues.

Long-lived, predatory fish are particularly susceptible to accumulating mercury and can carry amounts over 1 million times the concentration of their surrounding water.

For this reason, the primary food source of mercury in humans is seafood, particularly wild varieties.

After a person ingests mercury, it spreads all around their body, concentrating in the brain, liver and kidneys. In pregnant women, it also concentrates in the placenta and foetus.

The effects of mercury toxicity include disruption of the central nervous system and neurotransmitters and stimulation of neurotoxins, resulting in damage to the brain.

For developing foetuses and young children, mercury can disrupt brain development and cause the destruction of cell components. This can lead to cerebral palsy and other developmental delays and deficits.

However, most fish are not a significant source of mercury. In fact, fish is a high-quality protein and contains many important nutrients, such as omega-3s, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and magnesium. Therefore, it is important to include fish as part of a healthy diet.

Generally, it is recommended that adults eat two to three servings of fatty fish per week, like salmon, mackerel and sardines.

So you can see how that your diet definitely has a big impact on your brain health.

Diets that that are high in sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats and processed foods can contribute to impaired memory and learning, as well as increase your risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Several other substances in food are dangerous for your brain too.

Alcohol can cause massive damage to the brain when consumed in large quantities, while mercury found in seafood can be neurotoxic and permanently damage developing brains.

However, this doesn’t mean you must avoid all these foods completely. In fact, some foods fish also have health benefits.

One of the best things you can do for your brain is to follow a diet rich in healthy, fresh whole foods

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