You may have heard of “brain foods” that supply your brain with the nutrients it needs for proper function, healthy blood flow, and improved mental agility. Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and B-vitamins are beneficial for mental functioning. Conversely, there are foods on the opposite end of the spectrum, which can contribute to brain fog and a decreased ability to think clearly, reason, and comprehend. To keep your mind nimble and provide your brain cells with the fuel they need to keep you alert, avoid the foods that will prevent you from operating at peak mental performance.
The immediate effects of an episode of binge drinking on the brain are apparent in slurred speech, decreased reaction time, and impaired judgment. These effects tend to go away as alcohol leaves the body. However, chronic overuse or abuse of alcohol can have long-term effects on brain health. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the dendrites in brain cells, impairing the brain’s ability to relay messages between brain cells. Furthermore, chronic alcoholism can contribute to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This syndrome occurs due to a deficiency in thiamine, often related to excessive alcohol use. Symptoms are confusion, memory loss, weakness, and vision problems.
This artificial sweetener provides a sweet taste to many products, including chewing gum, sodas, sugar-free desserts, and sugarless candies. While aspartame was created to combat the adverse health effects of sugar, this chemical is not without risk of its own. A study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that aspartame may interfere with several critical processes in the brain. This study suggests that decreased brain function may be related to interference with amino acids, proteins, nucleic acids, neurons, and hormones in the brain.
9. Copper Supplements
Some tout the use of copper supplements for their effects on red blood cells, immunity, and iron absorption. However, unless your doctor diagnoses you with the rare condition of copper deficiency, you should stay away from this supplement. Psychology Today lists learning disabilities, impaired mental performance, decreased concentration skills, and autism among the brain effects of too much copper in the body. Furthermore, Science Daily reports that improper levels of copper can cause several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. You can enjoy proper amounts of copper in foods such as shellfish, nuts, liver, and whole grains.
8. Fried Foods
Fried foods hurt not only your heart and your waistline but also your brain. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Science used word and fluency tests to evaluate mental function in participants. In this study, individuals who consumed fried foods suffered from impaired memory and understanding when compared with subjects who enjoyed healthy diets. The consumption of fried foods may trigger inflammation that decreases brain health. Skip the French fries and try roasting veggies in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil instead.
7. Mercury-Containing Fish
Fish are an essential source of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients beneficial for good brain health. Consuming two to three servings of fish each week can provide the protein, omega-3s, vitamin B12, and iron your body needs. However, certain types of fish are more likely to be high in mercury. High levels of mercury can contribute to memory loss, learning difficulties, and decreased comprehension and understanding. Furthermore, high mercury levels may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. The FDA provides a chart of healthy fish choices, which also notes which fish carry the highest risk of mercury poisoning.
6. Processed Foods
Processed foods such as deli meats, microwave meals, and prepackaged snacks are usually high in salt, sugar, refined flour, and chemical additives. Filling your stomach with these items, instead of the nutrients you need, deprives your brain cells of wholesome nutrition. Furthermore, these ingredients contribute to weight gain. A study reported in the Neurology suggests that obesity may contribute to a lower volume of brain gray matter. Snack on items like apple slices spread with nut butter or a handful of fresh berries instead of highly processed snack cakes or potato chips.
5. Refined Carbohydrates
Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates are foods that contain sugar, refined white flour, and processed grains. In comparison with complex carbohydrates, these foods are quickly digested and can cause fast spikes in blood sugar levels. A study in the journal Nutrients found that diets high in fat and sugar can cause deficits in memory and understanding. Skip products like white bread, white rice, and pasta. Instead, treat your body to the complex carbohydrates found in foods such as beans, oats, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.
Too much salt can trigger high blood pressure and heart disease. Excessive salt can also affect your brain, causing cerebral small vessel disease, ischemic brain injury, dementia, and decreased cognitive function. An animal study in Nature Neuroscience found that a high intake of salt caused reduced mental functioning in mice. This result was independent of the effects of salt on blood pressure and blood vessels. Researchers in this study surmise that salt decreases mental functioning due to an immune response in the gut that causes a diminished blood supply to the brain.
Your brain requires the proper amount of sugar, or glucose, as a source of energy for performing critical functions. Nonetheless, too much of a good thing can be damaging to brain cells. Sugar is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. However, it is the added sugar contained in many products on grocery store shelves that causes you to consume excess sugar. A study in Neuroscience shows that excess sugar affects the brain chemicals that play a part in memory formation and learning. Check food labels when shopping and avoid items with sugar or corn syrup prominent in the ingredients.
2. Sugary Drinks
Sodas, fruit juices, and sports drinks can all be high in added sugar. Fruit juices may seem like a healthy choice. After all, they come from fruit. However, these products are often high in sugar and low in critical dietary fiber. Sports drinks tend to contain excessive amounts of sugar in addition to water and electrolytes. Sodas are notoriously high in sugar or sugar substitutes and devoid of nutrients. Treat your brain right and stick to plain or fruit-infused water. Consume whole fruits instead of fruit juices. Whole fruit is high in fiber as well as vitamins, minerals, and water.
1. Trans Fats
Healthy, monounsaturated fats are beneficial for your brain, heart, and cholesterol levels. However, the trans fats found in processed foods, shortening, hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and stick margarine have adverse effects on your heart and your brain. A study review in the Neurobiology of Aging suggests there is a link between dietary saturated and trans fats and the risk of mental decline. A diet high in saturated or trans fats may increase the incidence of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and cognitive decline. Instead, stick to the healthy fats found in avocado, olive oil, and nuts.