Over the years, brain disorders have risen as one of the leading contributors to a global disease burden. One in every four American adults are suffering from diagnosable mental disorders while Alzheimer’s disease continues to plague an estimated 5.4 million Americans and could reach as much as 16 million by the year 2050. Even Parkinson’s disease is no exception, with approximately half-a-million cases and is still continuously rising. Some of this is owed to better diagnosis, or simply any diagnosis, because there was a time in which these ailments were just referred to as old age or that grandpa was “losing it”, but that doesn’t account for the total increase in the heightened decay of brain matter. Diet and food intake has been implicated and research will continue to shed light on the contributors, for now we can offer what should be avoided if you want to maintain a big beautiful brain.
Despite the prevalence of brain disorders and the alarming numbers attached to it, there are still tons of ways on how you can ensure that your brain and body are in tip-top condition. One of them is to avoid foods that compromise your overall health. The other is to consume herbal nootropics that improve brain protection, memory, and overall cognitive processing.
But first, how does your diet affect your brain and body?
From the moment you were developed in your mother’s womb and throughout your growing up years, your diet (or that of your mother’s during the duration of pregnancy) plays an important role in development.
Based on an experiment conducted on monkeys, two groups of pregnant monkeys ate a low-fat diet and a diet high in fat, similar to a typical American diet. When the baby monkeys were born, the experts noticed that those exposed to a high-fat diet ate more junk food than those whose mothers consumed the healthier diet. The problem on the surface would seem to implicate fat, but really it’s the type of fat that’s the problem. Also the key takeaway here is that food preference for any individual begins in the womb and what your mother ate while she was carrying you can play a role in how you crave food.
It’s all because of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is crucial in motivation and reward. Following the experiment, experts found out that a prenatal diet high in fat decreases dopamine fibers and dopamine receptors. This could be the reason why the toddler monkeys were looking for fatty and sugary food to feel the same pleasure as when they were still unborn.
So, what foods should you avoid for a healthier brain and body?
Just Stop Eating Fast Food
McDonald’s or Burger King just for example deliver high caloric foods with extremely low nutrient value. Really, almost none. The fat content ingested here is cholesterol raising, and sugar is basically concealed in everything. The effect on your brain and body is not beneficial.
Fast food is a powerhouse of crappy ingredients that ruin the proper function of your brain and body. It consists of extremely low quality meat, bread that takes forever to mold, and is loaded with preservatives and chemicals. They even somehow manage to ruin a tomato and what little vegetables used as toppings. These processed foods increase inflammation and damage your cells and the hypothalamus, or that part of your brain responsible for producing hormones that control the rhythms of your body such as sleep, hunger, and mood among others. Plus, eating fast food contributes drastically to weight gain and you surely don’t want that. Even if you’re fine with extra pounds, it’s not your appearance that’s the problem. Excess weight around the midsection is correlated with increased rates of diabetes, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. Every inch of hardened gut fat is associated with an increased risk for these maladies. It also takes a lot of fast food to feel full, this is why people eat so much of it in one sitting.
Your brain and body are craving nutrients that just never arrive so instead they are stuck with the empty calories, which you then begin to metabolize. Your body is amazing after all, and we can survive on some really awful stuff, but this is more a testament of our evolutionary advantage, and not something that you really want to explore to test the limits of survival. Fast food restaurants will argue that you shouldn’t eat their product everyday, well I would argue never. It’s not real food. It makes you lethargic, contributes to plaque build up over time in your brain, and damages tissues throughout your body. It’s wise to think of our bodies as one giant filtration system. Anything that we come in contact with and anything we ingest gets broken down or filtered. The good gets used, and the bad gets excreted via sweat and bowel movements. Additionally, people who consume fast food on a regular basis have significantly larger bowel movements. This is because your body is great at using what it needs, and so low calorie high nutrient dense foods contribute positively to metabolic and physiologic processes, while fast foods contribute mostly waste. Further gut and intestinal issues arise as a result.
Regular fast food goers tend to be of lower socioeconomic status and I have heard the argument extensively that this is the only way they can afford to eat and feed their family. This simply just isn’t true. The amount of money that a family of 4 spends on Mcdonald’s to fill up on could easily be translated to healthy alternatives from your average grocery store. The best fruits, meats, and veggies? No definitely not, but food with far more nutrient density than what they are getting yes. The other underlying problem is they’ve been eating this way for awhile, so they have already altered their metabolism and have likely gained weight and expanded their stomachs. This goes back to the last point about not being able to fill up and so eating more of the junk. Your brain and body are craving the right nutrients, and since they are getting so little, they’re holding out hope that more food will provide what they need. Since these people are their brain and body, it is they who need more of this food to feel satiated.
Avoid Fried Foods
Apart from fast food, fried foods are also a big no-no for your brain and body health. This is because cooking oils used for frying release agents, especially in high temperature, that increases the risk of neurological degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Frying also increases beta-amyloid deposits, a peptide plaque that boosts your chances of developing neurodegenerative diseases and specifically Alzheimer’s. Trans fat is on the loose too, because it lowers your cognitive abilities and leads to decreased brain density later in life.
To be specific, stay away from flaxseed and sunflower cooking oils since they have high amounts of toxins when heated. They may seem like healthy alternatives on the surface but not under high heat that is typical with frying. Restaurant fryers that don’t specifically specify high grade alternative oils for frying are definitely using the cheap stuff. These oils will directly contribute to your elevated risk of heart disease, plaque buildup in arteries and subsequent increased risk of stroke.
A stroke by the way can be caused by an eventual hemorrhage as a result of blockage originating in your brain (thrombotic stroke) or outside your brain (embolic stroke), both deprive your brain of oxygen and lead to tissue death. Plaque in your bloodstream or around your heart can be released and travel to your brain and end up lodging in a smaller vessel. A prolapse then develops in which the vessel expands to allow blood to pass through, but like a balloon with too much air, vessels can only expand so much, and when they rupture this is a hemorrhagic stroke. Most of which are deadly. In other cases the pressure that builds up can deprive an area of the brain from oxygen regardless of rupture. Blockages can be relieved in some cases by stents that open collapsed vessels or tiny coils that fill up the prolapse and prevent it from expanding. It’s really scary stuff. Even a couple minutes of oxygen deprived brain matter can die off leading to a vast array of neurological deficits; paralysis, speech disorders, and significant cognitive decline.
Avoid Processed Food
Trans fat plays a massive role in the awfulness of processed food, but in an effort to remove the fat content from food, companies have inserted loads of added sugar to make the food palatable. Processed food contains a high amount of trans fat, combined with other artificial food additives and sugar that makes them harmful for both your brain and heart. They are also full of preservatives that could negatively affect both your behavior and cognitive function. This type of food is unable to provide essential nutrients for your brain and body, which likewise promotes obesity and inflammation. When your brain and body are under these conditions, you are also compromising the overall health of your brain. It isn’t a long term worry either. Daily intake of processed foods contributes to brain fog, lethargy, decreased motivation and subsequent productivity. It makes sense when you think about how your brain is deprived of the fuel that allows it to function optimally.
Processed food, which includes cured meats, are rich in preservatives, salt and protein as well. When you eat the cheap packaged bacon, your body will need more water to wash out naturally occurring nitrogen as well as the preservatives, thereby leaving your body with a decreased water supply. This leads to dehydration, which also results in diminished cognitive function.
- Savory snacks - you need salt but not sprinkled over processed, superheated wheat and grains
- Breakfast cereals
- Granola bars - The health world has been responding, and alternative granolas completely without added sugar are starting to rock it, but traditional like quaker chewy is a big nope
- Bacon and other cured meat - Uncured bacon is good to go
- Instant ramen
- Flavored nuts - too much added sugar
- Dried fruits - Only good if it’s just the dried fruit, no added sugar, which most are loaded with. It turns out most people don’t like the natural taste of dried fruit, but you can get used to it and enjoy the benefits. Dried fruits should be treated just like any other fruit, eaten in moderation.
- Margarine or Reduced Fat Butter
- Fruit snacks - really shouldn’t need to list this
- Frozen dinners - poor nutrient density, preserved meats, need I say more?
- Ketchup - overly processed, loads of added sugar
I’m all for people making money and driving the economy, but at least offer something good to the public. Too many of these aforementioned products are all about the bottom line. They do such a high volume in sales that they opt to squeeze out even just a slightly larger margin that leads to even higher profits all at your expense physically and financially.
Avoid Sugary and Bubbly Drinks
Just say no to a cup of sugary soda even on a thirsty, sunny day? While it may seem like a thirst-quencher, soda and other sugary drinks mess with your brain’s weight regulation system and do not quench your thirst. This means sugary drinks slow down your ability to feel hunger because the neurons in the hypothalamus don’t normally match calorie intake to the energy burned by your body. As a result, you are tempted to eat more, which further contributes to weight gain since you are merely filling your body with sugar that your liver will then store as fat.
It doesn’t end there. It turns out that soda, specifically diet and citrus-flavored soda, and other bubbly drinks, contain brominated vegetable oil or BVO. BVO was originally created to make plastics flame-retardant. At present, this ingredient keeps the citrus flavor in sodas from separating from the rest of the drink. BVO could create a negative effect on memory and make it difficult for you to focus, especially during exams or presentations.
Avoid High Mercury Fish
Mercury is commonly found in fish, particularly those that are bigger and live longer. This is because bigger fish are able to accumulate more mercury over time simply due to their size and longevity, which negatively affects your cognitive function, specifically in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of the brain that is responsible for coordination, balance, and vision and eating too much fish high in mercury can cause cognitive decline.
Avoid these fish high in mercury:
- King mackerel
- Yellowfin tuna
Still, this doesn’t mean you should skip fish for good. Stick to one serving per week or minimize your intake of fish if you want to add it in your weekly meal plan. Better yet, get your omega 3s from algal DHA, after all this is the healthy content of why fish is touted in the mediterranean diet, and overall brain health. Algae is far more sustainable than everyone jumping to fish.
Avoid White Rice
Your body needs carbs to fuel your energy levels, but you need the right carbs. Nonetheless, not all carbs are good. When it comes to carbs that could put your overall health in jeopardy, you need to start removing white rice from your diet. Check out our guide on figuring net carbs to make sure your intake is right.
White rice has a high glycemic index, a component that contributes to higher risk of depression, elevated blood sugar levels, and increased risk of diabetes. This is because white rice causes your blood sugar to shoot up and triggers your body to produce more insulin. The problem is most aren’t moving enough to actually use it effectively and those with insulin resistance will present with elevated levels of insulin, meaning glucose isn’t being transported into muscle tissue for energy utilization.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
There is a reason why sugar, especially the artificial ones, is often put in the bad spotlight. It turns out that artificial sweeteners change the bacteria in your gut, which could lead to type 2 diabetes. This is because diabetes makes you less sensitive to insulin and speeds up brain degeneration. Once diabetes starts kicking in, you are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Apart from this, large amounts of sugar in your body could negatively affect the hippocampus, your brain’s memory control center, and encourage inflammation. When this happens, your memory center won’t be functioning 100 percent.
Examples of artificial sweeteners are:
- Acesulfame potassium
- Aspartame, which is found in Equal and NutraSweet (wiki page says it’s ok, but no thanks) Look at who pays for the research studies.
- Sucralose, which is an ingredient in Splenda
It’s not just your gut. Unfortunately, gluten affects your neurological system too. People with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity were found to experience headache, brain fog, and peripheral neuropathy or tingling sensation in their extremities because of the nutritional deficiencies it caused. People with neurological conditions like anxiety, depression, and epilepsy also react negatively to gluten. I must also point out that there are many more wheat derivatives besides gluten that you can also be allergic to. So many of you who jump to believing you have a gluten allergy without actually having conducted a proper blood test need to do so. You could actually be allergic to one or several of the other components. Have trouble with acne? Processed carbs and even alternate wheat allergies can contribute. If you’ve tried everything, look here.
Below is the list of foods with gluten:
- Grains and starches like wheat, farina, rye, barley, couscous, wheat barley, and graham flour
- Sauces and condiments such as mayonnaise, syrup, ketchup, gravy, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, marinades, and malt vinegar
- Salad dressing
- Canned baked beans
- Drinks such as beer, vodka, root beer, wine coolers, commercially-prepared chocolate milk, flavored coffee and tea, and instant hot drinks
- Imitation crab meatProcessed cheese
- Soups and commercial broths
- French fries dusted with flour prior to freezing
- Hotdog and sausage
- Non-dairy creamer
- Oats and oat bran
- Energy bars
- Breaded foods
- Egg substitute
- Cold cuts
Avoid Frozen Food
There are days when cooking feels like a chore, so you resort to frozen food. After all, it is convenient, easy to prepare, and quickly fills you up especially during hectic days. This explains why the frozen food sales reached as much as $53.06 billion in the United States alone.
Here’s the thing: frozen food like pizza and pies are not good for your brain and body. In particular, frozen pie have high amounts of hydrogenated oil, which not only makes you bigger but also causes serious brain drain. Consuming hydrogenated oil leads to diminishing cognitive abilities and can cause brain shrinkage as you get older. This isn’t even to mention the harmful preservatives and carb heavy cooked crusts. You’re just warming it back up, not cooking it.
Avoid Ice Cream
Sorry to break it to you, ice cream lover, but this one is not good for your brain and body. In fact, a cup of ice cream, regardless of the flavor, harms both your waistline but also your brain’s overall function. This is because ice cream contains loads of excess sugar that is responsible for your extra calories. When combined together, saturated fat and sugar contributes to the decline of verbal memory and cognitive skills, which prevents your brain from being in tiptop shape. There are ice creams that are dairy free now that are quite delicious, but it was never the dairy that was the problem. If you must indulge go for full fat, 0 added sugar ice cream. I know the paleo people are off dairy, and if this is you, definitely reconsider. Those with lactose intolerance or who do not digest dairy very well should definitely avoid, but whole fat butter, heavy cream, and soluble milk fats aren’t the enemy. They actually further the delivery of nutrients, fat soluble vitamins.
Avoid Commercial Muffins
Admit it. It’s hard to say no to that chocolate muffin, as if it is talking to you directly. Apparently, muffins sold commercially are made of soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup and trans fat, which make your hips wider and your brainpower slower. This could negatively affect your memory as well, which makes you become more forgetful. Now you know why the bulging belly is referred to as a “muffin top.”
Avoid White Chocolate
You reach out to chocolates every time you need a little pick-me-up – and that’s fine. It turns out that your preferred chocolate is the white version and sadly, it doesn’t provide the benefits given by chocolates with at least 70 percent cocoa content. White chocolate doesn’t contain cocoa solids and is sending the wrong chemicals to your brain, which your brain doesn’t need for cognitive processing.
You Can Avoid These Foods
Too many to handle? Don’t worry. At first, you will find it challenging to avoid these unhealthy foods for your brain and body. Once you become more conscious about what you eat and more at ease with the routine, you’ll begin to notice how much better you feel, and how much clearer you’re able to think. Simply remember these foods to avoid and you’ll be on the road to better brain and body health in no time.