No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start eating in a way that gives you the best possible chance of staving off dementia as you age and making sure that you feel focused and sharp every day.
As a nutritional psychiatrist, faculty member at Harvard Medical School and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” I study how our gut bacteria can trigger metabolic processes and brain inflammation that impact memory. Existing studies point to the idea that we may be able to reduce the possibility of dementia by avoiding foods that can compromise our gut bacteria and weaken our memory and focus.
Here are the foods I try to avoid or cut back on to fight inflammation and promote brain health, sharp thinking and good decision-making:
1. Added sugars
The brain uses energy in the form of glucose, a form of sugar, to fuel cellular activities. However, a high-sugar diet can lead to excess glucose in the brain, which studies have linked to memory impairments and less plasticity of the hippocampus — the part of the brain controlling memory.
Consuming unhealthy processed foods like baked goods and soda, which are often loaded with refined and added sugars — often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup — floods the brain with too much glucose.
Although each body has different needs, the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, and men stay under 36 grams added sugar per day. (To figure out if a packaged food contains added sugars, and how much, check the “added sugars” line in the Nutrition Facts panel.)
2. Fried foods
French fries, tempura, samosas, fish and chips and chicken-fried steak. Is your mouth watering? I get it.
Still, when it comes to brain health, it pays to reduce the amount of fried foods you eat. In fact, one study including 18,080 people found that a diet high in fried foods was linked to lower scores in learning and memory. The likely reason: These guilty pleasures cause inflammation, which can damage the blood vessels that supply the brain with blood.
Another study looked at 715 people and measured their levels of depression and mental resilience. It also documented their level of fried food consumption. Sure enough, researchers found that those who consumed more fried foods were more likely to develop depression in their lifetime.
If you’re eating fried foods daily, switch to weekly. If it’s a weekly habit, try enjoying them just once a month. If you don’t eat fried foods, you’re already on your way to happier times!
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