We know that eating large quantities of fresh veggies and getting the right nutrients and vitamins are keys to a healthy lifestyle and optimized mind. But what foods you choose to eat is just as important as what you decide NOT to put into your body. In fact, there are a number of foods and chemicals present in the modern diet that can harm your brain and put you at greater risk for memory loss, dementia and other problems. Take a look at the items below and think twice before including them in your meals or snacking.
Trans fats were ubiquitous in the news a few years ago as several cities and counties in the US sought to ban their inclusion in restaurant meals - and for good reason. A review appearing in the journal BMJ in 2015 stated that “trans fats are associated with all-cause mortality, total coronary heart disease, and coronary heart disease mortality.”
These fats are wholly artificial and increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease - or stroke. That’s right, trans fat can clog and otherwise harm the blood vessels in your brain. Even if you don’t suffer a stroke, this means less oxygen may be getting to your essential brain cells. A separate review in the journal Neurobiology of Aging concluded that “…prospective studies indicate relationships between saturated and trans fat intake and risk of cognitive disorders” like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So why do manufacturers include trans fat in their food? The answer is profits. Foods with trans fat have a long shelf life and a desirable taste, particularly to consumers who are accustomed to fatty and sugary foods.
How do you avoid trans fats? The American Heart Association recommends checking food labels for “partially hydrogenated oils.” This means trans fat. Instead, choose foods with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. When eating out at a restaurant, simply ask your server if they use trans fats.
Some physicians recommend avoiding too much sodium due to its possible link to high blood pressure. But there’s another problem with diets high in sodium - cognitive decline. A study at the University of Toronto, also published in Neurobiology of Aging, found that seniors with high-salt diets did worse on mental status and cognitive function exams compared to their peers. The good news? Physical activity counteracted this negative effect. The take-home message is to both watch your sodium intake AND get adequate physical exercise for optimal brain function.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
This is one that most people haven’t heard of, but polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can be devastating to your health. PAHs are not a food additive but are formed by cooking meats at high temperatures. Grilling and barbequing are two examples. PAHs are also found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust.
What is the danger to your brain function from PAHs? A study appearing in the journal PLoS One found a link between exposure to PAHs and cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. To avoid this pitfall, brain hacking expert Dave Asprey recommends cooking your meat on low to medium heat in a small amount of water.
What Dietary Measure Can You Take to Protect Your Brain?
One of the best things you do to help your cognitive function is to get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in cold water fish, walnuts and flax seed. Omega 3s, especially when combined with vitamin B6, can protect your brain and help prevent cognitive decline, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The authors explained the exact relationship between these two nutrients: “When omega-3 fatty acid concentrations are low, B vitamin treatment has no effect on cognitive decline in mild cognitive impairment, but when omega-3 levels are in the upper normal range, B vitamins interact to slow cognitive decline.”
If you’re worried about getting sufficient amounts of omega 3s and vitamin B6, nootropic supplements are a great idea. These supplements are designed to enhance your cognitive function and give you the extra edge you need to stay alert, learn better and remember more. In fact, nootropics are even available in convenient “stacks” designed to help you boost specific brain functions and excel in both your career and everyday life.