5 Worst Foods for Your Brain (and What to Eat Instead)

September 12, 2018

5 Worst Foods for Your Brain (and What to Eat Instead)

Want to keep your brain healthy as you age? The best thing you can do is take a look at your diet. The fuel we choose for our bodies has the potential to both harm or protect us.

Here are 5 of the worst foods for your brain health and 5 suggestions for what to eat instead of a healthy, happy brain:

1. Refined breads and pasta

Refined Carbs

Refined breads and pastas have been stripped of their nutrients so there’s no fiber to slow down their digestion. Instead, these processed carbohydrates rush through your system and spike your blood sugar. A diet comprised of refined carbohydrates has been linked to impaired memory in adults and kids.

Eat this instead: 

Not all carbs are bad! In fact, whole carbs are great for you. Whole grain breads and whole grain or brown rice pastas still have their fiber in tact. This means they’re digested more slowly, your blood sugar is better regulated, and you therefore have a steady stream of energy so you can buckle down and focus.

No time to cook? We’ve got your back with our Dairy-Free Lazy Lasagna, made with brown rice pasta.

2. Red Meat

Red Meat

Studies found “the most important dietary link to Alzheimer’s Disease appears to be meat consumption, with eggs and high-fat dairy also contributing.” Just like saturated fat clogs cardiovascular system, the blood vessels in our brain become clogged as well.

Eat this instead:

Skip the beef and make beans the center of your plate! A great source of protein (saturated fat-free!) and packed with brain boosting B vitamins and magnesium, try our delicious Black Bean Bowl to get started.

3. Vegetable oils

Vegetable Oil

High in omega-6s, an inflammatory fatty aid, consuming vegetable oils — particularly canola oil —  is linked with increased risk for Alzheimer’s. Chronic brain inflammation is also linked with depression and other cognitive issues. When our brains are inflamed, energy production goes down, the firing of neurons is slowed, and we’re often left mentally exhausted.

Eat this instead:

Walnuts! Filled to the brim with protective fatty acids. Omega-3 deficiencies can mess with our ability to learn and retain memories. In fact,  studies have found that dementia patients have low omega-3 levels. Stay sharp and snack on our maple walnut granola.

4. Cheese

Cheese brain health

Pizza and cheese are the biggest sources of saturated fat in the American diet. As we mentioned with meat, this saturated fat clogs our brain vessels just like it clogs our heart vessels. Higher saturated fat is linked with inflammation of the brain, higher risk of stroke, and impaired memory.

Eat this instead:

If you don’t have heart disease, try avocados as a creamy and plant-based alternative to cheese. Avocados haves lots of potassium, which can improve blood pressure and reduce risk of stroke. They’re also a great source of folate — a deficiency of which is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Whip up this creamy avocado hummus.

5. Refined Sugar

Refined Sugar

Americans eat way too much added sugar - nearly 66 pounds per person a year — and most of it is refined. Why is this a problem? Too much sugar causes inflammation in the brain and like those refined carbs, it spikes your blood sugar which leaves your body and your brain without the energy they need. Too much sugar also reduces our brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) levels. BDNF is crucial for learning and making new memories.

Oh, and sugar is addicting! Brain scans reveal that added sugar changes our brain chemistry in a way that looks very similar to our brains when we ingest cocaine or alcohol.

Eat this instead:

Turn to whole foods, like fruit for your sweet fix, particularly blueberries! Eating this delicious little berries may stave off short term memory loss thanks to their powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. Power your day with this brain boosting smoothie.


By Ali Brown

Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

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