Mind Your Food for Better Brain Health

Mind Your Food for Better Brain Health

Mind Your Food for Better Brain Health

You’ve probably heard about foods that are good for your brain. But can you also harm your brain with what you eat?

Our brains work better when we eat nutrient-rich food. So yes, there are foods that are bad for your brain.

The best foods for brain health might not surprise you. You may have heard about them for years. But it may seem like keeping track of them and making sure they’re in your diet is too hard.

There is one simple dietary change you can make to help your brain. Cutting just one type of food from the menu can be a big boost for your brain health. And it can improve your overall physical and mental wellness at the same time.

Studies show that ditching ultra-processed foods might be the top tip for keeping food from taking a toll on your brain. These types of foods are linked to many physical and mental health problems.

Highly processed foods are linked to reduced memory and thinking. Research shows that:

  • Getting just 20 percent of calories from highly processed foods was linked to a 28 percent faster rate of cognitive decline compared with eating less of those foods.
  • People ages 55 and older who ate a highly processed diet were about 25 percent more likely to get dementia than those who ate little of these foods.
What Are Highly Processed Foods?

Ultra or highly processed foods are often packaged goods with a long shelf file. Or they’re quick to eat and have a long list of ingredients.

Greater processing means a greater loss of nutrients. And adding some other ingredients reduces the nutritional benefits of food even more, says Columbia University Irving Medical Center. leaving site icon Those add-ins start negative neurological changes in brain structure and functions. Some include:

  • Preservative chemicals
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Saturated fat
What to Avoid

To weed out highly processed foods skip those with:

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Emulsifiers
  • Added color
  • Added flavor
  • Added sugars or salt

Some common examples of these foods include:

  • Microwaveable dinners
  • Hot dogs
  • Deli meats
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Sugary cereals
  • Sodas
What to Have Instead

Food plans that help reduce heart disease may also reduce the risk of mental decline and other brain health issues. Some examples include the MIND diet, which blends DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean style of eating has been shown to aid brain health, according to the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, leaving site icon which helps people with traumatic brain injury (TBI). That includes high amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are especially good for brain health. Many people who eat this way also cut down on meat and dairy products.

Brain-Friendly Foods
Look for powerhouse foods linked to better brain health:

  • Berries, grapes, watermelon and avocados
  • Beets and dark, leafy greens
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Fatty Fish
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts

Take a step toward protecting your brain health by making changes to the foods you eat most. Talk to your doctor before you start a new eating plan to find out what is best for you and your health.

Sources: Your Brain On Food: What We Know, leaving site icon Columbia University Irving Medical Center, 2023; What to Eat for Better Brain Health, leaving site icon Consumer Reports, 2023; Nutrition may play a key role in supporting brain health for people recovering from a TBI, leaving site icon UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, 2022; Maximize memory function with a nutrient-rich diet, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2023