Whether you’re scaling a recipe or cooking from scratch, your brain works hard to keep your wheels turning. Some foods, though, can undermine your mental function, ultimately leading to poor memory and cognitive skills. Show your brain some love by avoiding the worst foods for brain health according to science, below.
Although grains provide fuel (i.e., glucose) for our brains, not all grains are equal. Refined grains like those in white bread, flour, and pasta contribute to cognitive decline by way of increased inflammation, according to a 2018 article. According to another study, they also reduce brain-derived neurotrophic factor, an important molecule involved in memory.
Eat this instead: Give your brain high-quality, nutrient-dense energy by eating whole grains like quinoa or barley.
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Sorry, processed meat: You can’t sit with us. A 2017 study found that diets high in processed and red meat promote inflammation, creating the perfect setup for cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disease. Think hot dogs, bacon, and cold cuts.
Eat this instead: While the occasional BLT won’t hurt, try choosing more lean meats like skinless chicken breast or baked fish.
Commercial baked goods, as shown in this 2018 study, are jam-packed with refined white flour and added sugars, which contribute to cognitive dysfunction due to—you guessed it—inflammation. They also contain compounds called advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, that speed up aging and cognitive decline.
Eat this instead: Make a batch of cherry almond bars for a quick, travel-friendly snack.
It’s a no-brainer that sugary soda is unhealthy. But beyond the potential cavities and unwanted weight gain, it may also contribute to cognitive decline. According to a 2019 study, frequently sipping sugary drinks can increase blood sugar, inflammation, and oxidative stress—all of which mess with your nerve cells’ ability to communicate.
Drink this instead: When you’re craving something bubbly, grab club soda and make fizzy drinks.
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We’re looking at you, fast food. Thanks to the process of deep frying, fried fare like onion rings and French fries are teeming with AGEs, research shows. Fried food is also full of saturated fat, which studies link to high cholesterol and inflammation, two big risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
Eat this instead: Swap the fried food for a baked dish, like these baked Buffalo chicken wings. Steamed, boiled, and broiled meals are also great options.
Hold the salt! A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, making it hard for blood to flow to your brain. This can snowball into cognitive decline and dementia, according to a 2014 study. Processed and fast foods are major offenders, but ordinary table salt is just as guilty.
Eat this instead: Along with ditching the processed stuff, go easy on the table salt. Use fresh spices and herbs to flavor your meals.