The 6 Worst Foods for Brain Health

The 6 Worst Foods for Brain Health

Your brain represents only 2% of your weight. Yet it controls everything in your body. Cognitive decline is a reality we can't escape as we age. But that doesn't mean we can't slow it down and even prevent diseases like Alzheimer's.

Including certain foods can help boost memory and improve your cognitive function. Living a healthy lifestyle with habits that promote brain health will also be helpful. But did you know some foods could halt your entire progress?

The worst foods for brain health

While the proper nutrients will help boost your memory and mood, some foods might do the opposite. Before you go through this list and proceed to throw them all out of your house, there's one thing we'd like to mention.

Demonizing certain food groups completely can be just as damaging as eating them in excess. Moderation is key. The fact that some foods are in this group doesn't mean you should never touch them again. It simply means you should pay attention to how much and how often you're eating them.

1. Refined carbs

Refined carbs include highly processed grains and sugars. They have a high glycemic index (GI), which means your body processes them quickly, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. The problem is this rise is followed by a blood sugar crash, leaving your energy levels depleted.

You'll crave more similar foods to raise your blood sugar again. This continuous rollercoaster messes up with hormones and may even impair brain function. Studies show that a single meal with high GI foods is enough to observe memory impairment in both adults and children.

Why does this happen? It appears inflammation in the hippocampus is to blame. The hippocampus is responsible for some aspects of our memory as well as hunger and fullness cues.

Plus, inflammation is a known risk factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease. And refined carbs are well-known for increasing inflammation in the body.

It also appears diets high in refined carbs may impair children's brains. A study conducted in 2012 on 245 children ages 6-7 showed that those eating more refined carbs had lower non-verbal intelligence levels.

2. Sugary drinks

While we're on the topic of refined carbs and sugar, we must talk about soda and sugary beverages.

Like refined carbs, sugary drinks will cause a quick spike in blood sugar only to drop soon. They provide little to no nutritional value and can do a lot of damage to your health.

Sugary drinks are known to increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This, in turn, increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Many of these drinks also contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A high intake of HFCS is linked to diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, and more. These are all part of a metabolic syndrome that, in the long run, increases the risk of developing dementia.

3. Fish high in mercury

Fish (omega-3, more specifically) is one of the best foods for brain health. Sadly, not all fish are created equal. And fish high in mercury can do more damage than good.

Tuna is one of the worst in this regard and one of the most common fish on the market. King mackerel, tilefish, swordfish, and sharks also have significant quantities of mercury though they are generally less consumed.

Mercury is a heavy metal that is stored in animal tissue for a long time. Once ingested by humans, it spreads, mainly concentrating in the brain, the liver, and the kidneys. For pregnant women, mercury can also go to the placenta.

High levels of mercury are toxic and can harm your brain. The side effects of unborn or very young children can go as far as developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

The good news is it takes very high levels of mercury in the body to see such extreme effects. A tuna sandwich once in a while won't hurt. But if you're worried and the only source of fish you have is one high in mercury, an omega-3 supplement might be a better alternative.

4. Trans fats

It should come as no surprise that trans fats are on the list of worst foods for brain health. After all, they're usually on the list of worst foods for your body.

Trans fats occur naturally in foods like meat and dairy. While it is beneficial to limit animal products, the trans fats that occur naturally aren't the main concern here.

The real problem comes from artificial trans fats. These can be found in margarine, processed meat, highly processed prepackaged foods, or frosting. In short, they're in most junk foods.

Several studies have linked high consumption of trans fats to memory problems, dementia and Alzheimer's, and cognitive decline.

Interestingly, some studies don't find a direct connection between trans fats and brain health. But even their findings agree these types of fats are not beneficial as they can lead to inflammation and heart problems. And since we know inflammation is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's, we could say even these studies indirectly agree trans fats are not good for your brain.

5. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are a controversial topic. On the one hand, it's true that they help manage blood sugar. They might even help you lose weight at first. But there's a price to pay for these benefits.

Artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and more. While they all have serious side effects when consumed in high amounts, aspartame is the worst for the brain.

For the longest time, aspartame was present in most diet sodas and foods. It has been linked to diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. And that's not all.

Aspartame is made from 3 main ingredients: aspartic acid, methanol, and phenylalanine. There is evidence that suggests phenylalanine may disrupt the production of certain neurotransmitters. This might explain why aspartame has been linked to mental health issues such as mood swings and depression. Also, people consuming high amounts of aspartame seem to be more vulnerable to oxidative stress.

6. Alcohol

When it comes to brain health, alcohol is an interesting topic. Red wine, which contains resveratrol, may have a positive impact on your brain. Of course, you shouldn't overdo it, as even red wine will be bad for your health when consumed in excess.

Studies have shown people who struggle with alcoholism usually have a vitamin B1 deficiency. Left untreated, this can lead to memory loss, eyesight issues, and confusion.

But it's not only alcoholics who suffer from over-consumption of alcohol. The negative effects are particularly visible in teenagers. At this age, the brain is still developing. Studies comparing teenagers who drink regularly to those who don't show alcohol can lead to abnormal brain function and behavior.

Bottom line

Food is a powerful tool when it comes to brain health. It can help boost your mood, memory, and cognitive function just as easily as impair them.

Looking at the best and worst foods for brain health and the habits that help, we can draw a few conclusions. When it comes to food, moderation is key. Choosing whole, natural foods while staying away from artificial ones is best.

Replace sugary or artificially sweetened beverages with natural, freshly squeezed fruit juices. Limit refined, simple carbs, and instead choose whole grains and complex carbs.

What are your thoughts on the foods on this list? Do you feel like there are any changes you need to make in your diet? Join us on Facebook and let us know.

Health/Medical Disclaimer

This blog post does not provide health or medical advice. This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health or medical advice. Before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. We do not provide any kind of health or medical advice. The use or reliance of any information contained on this blog is solely at your own risk.


30th Apr 2022 Written by Laura Vegh. Edited by Brandee Nichols, retired Registered Nurse.

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