It’s no secret excess sugar isn’t exactly sweet where your health is
concerned, but now new research indicates it may take a toll on your
brain as well as your waistline. In a recent animal study, UCLA
researchers found that rats fed a solution of fructose had a harder time navigating a maze, a sign of slowed learning and
memory loss, compared to a second group of rats who were given the
fructose solution as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which are
thought to have a brain-boosting effect.
The researchers suspect that the fructose-only diet decreased
brain activity because it affected insulin’s ability to help brain cells
use sugar to process thoughts and emotions. Certain omega-3 fatty acids
may buffer the brain from the harmful effects of fructose.
Use the news: While this research is preliminary, it’s
just general good health advice to minimize your intake of added sugar
(see some shockingly sneaky sources here) and up your consumption of foods rich in omega-3s, including walnuts, salmon, flax seeds and soybeans to your meals.
Red Meat and Butter
A diet high in “bad” saturated fat may hurt brain function, according to
new Harvard research published in the Annals of Neurology. When
researchers studied the eating habits and tested the brain function of
6,000 women for an average of four years, they found the women who ate
the most saturated fat scored lower on tests of brain function and
memory. On the other hand, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats
(found in foods like olive oil and avocado) had higher scores.
Use the news: You don’t need to shun saturated fat
sources entirely, but choose low or non-fat versions of animal products,
such as cheese, yogurt, and milk. Avoid processed meat, like bacon, and
stick to lean cuts. Get more protein from vegetable sources, like soy
Chips, pizza, and other junk food
Will junk food rot kids’ brains? A 2011 British study of nearly 4,000
children found that those who ate primarily junk food (lots of processed
and fast food) at age three had a small drop in IQ five years later
compared with children who ate healthier diets. (And the link remained
after researchers accounted for confounding variables, such as
socioeconomic status and parents’ education.) Early diet choices
especially seemed to affect kids’ verbal abilities, according to Time.com. The study suggests that smart diet choices may be particularly crucial during early years of rapid brain development.
Use the news: It can be tricky to get young picky eaters
to eat healthy foods, but remember that kids need repeated exposure
(sometimes a dozen or more times) to “like” a new food. So don’t give up
so easily! And many classic kid favorites, like string cheese and
yogurt, make for healthy snacks instead of processed cookies and chips.
Does blowing that bubble boost or bust your brainpower? Here, the
research is mixed. A recent British study published in the Quarterly
Journal of Experimental Psychology found that chewing gum during a
memorization exercise impaired participants’ short-term memories. The
researchers believe the act of chewing may get in the way of
concentrating on memory tasks (In this case, participants were asked to
learn the order of items in a list) The finding contradicts previous
research, which found a positive association between chewing gum and
Use the news: Because of mixed study
results, you might not want to spit just yet. But be sure to include
other brain-boosting habits in your daily routine, such as drinking
water (dehydration can affect focus and acuity), getting plenty of
sleep, and playing brain games.
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Ditching carbs can sap brainpower (along with energy and mood). A small
Tufts University study of 19 women between the ages of 22 and 55 found
dieters eliminated carbohydrates, they showed a gradual dip in cognitive
skills (particularly on memory-related tests) compared to a group who
stayed on a low-calorie diet that included carbs.
Use the news: Carbs aren’t evil—your body needs them for
many important functions, including fueling your brain. So avoid diets
that eliminate or severely restrict them, and choose healthy options,
like whole grain pastas and breads, brown rice, and quinoa.