The Standard American Diet not only makes our waistlines bigger, but it also starves the brain. They used to believe you can’t grow new brain cells. We now know that was wrong. Doesn’t that encourage you? We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We need to get rid of the foods that harm our brain development and add more foods that grow our brains.
Throughout my life, I never put much thought into what I was eating. Turns out there’s bad stuff in there! Let’s discover what that stuff is. We can’t avoid everything that’s harmful, but shouldn’t we at least be educated about it so we can pick and chose what we want to put in our bodies and the bodies of our children whose brains are still developing?
While these ingredients harm other organs in the body as well, today we’re just looking at the impact on the brain.
Toxins and Neurotoxins
This is just a short list of toxins and neurotoxins. There are many more. While they say in small amounts they’re not harmful, neurotoxicologists are concerned about the build up of small amounts from many sources into larger amounts. There are many chemicals, toxins and other ingredients in our food that shouldn’t be there including but not limited to:
- food dyes
- synthetic preservatives
- hexane (“I don’t eat hexane”, you say? You’d be wrong.)
- pesticides- 2017 dirty dozen list
- heavy metals
- caseinates- (sodium and calcium) found in nutritional supplements and processed foods
- nitrites/nitrates -processed meats
- mercury- certain fish
- arsenic– from rice, fruit juice, beer, wine and other foods
- chlorine- from water
- BPA- from plastics
They are often added as preservatives and flavorings. Others come from the environment and leach into our foods. These impair your brain function.
- sleep issues
- behavioral problems
- cognitive impairment
- interfere with normal physiological functions
- disturb brain chemistry
- hormonal disruptions
- nerve cell death
- impaired nerve cell communication
A common source of these toxins and neurotoxins is processed foods. Read ingredients, know what they are and know where your food comes from. Choose products with better ingredients. Let companies know they need to improve what goes into their products.
Excessive Sugar/ Refined Carbs
Our brains need sugar (glucose) as it’s main fuel. However, too much is a bad thing. Carbs are just another form of sugar.
Excessive sugar and refined carbs cause:
- increased rates of depression
- increased risk of dementia
- brain shrinkage
- accelerated brain aging
- decreased BDNF (which helps your brain grow new cells) impairing memories and learning
- affected pleasure centers of the brain and lead to cravings
- moods swings
Refined carbs have had all the nutrients stripped out and as a result they quickly turn to sugar in your body. They include foods like white rice, white flour, white sugar, etc.
Stick with foods that contain low sugar, complex carbs, fiber and foods that have not been overly processed. If you make it yourself you can easily control those things.
Omega 6 (excessive amounts), Fried Foods and Trans fat cause:
- cellular destruction
- damage memory
- increase brain inflammation
- damages the blood brain barrier
- reduce serotonin production leading to depression
- adverse affects on mood and behavior
- inhibits the production of long chain Omega 3 fatty acids, which the body needs to help reduce inflammation.
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, interesterified fats, margarine, vegetable oils. These fats are found in french fries, fried chicken, chips, baked goods, salad dressing, pie crusts, some ice creams, microwave popcorn, crackers and more. Read ingredient labels and stay away from these fats. They are also very damaging to your heart health.
We know excessive salt is not good for our hearts, but it seems it’s not good for our brains either.
Too much sodium can:
- cause high blood pressure which in turn can restrict blood flow to the brain. This negatively affect memory, focus and organizational skills.
- cause mild dehydration
- increase your risk of stroke
All this can cause faster cognitive decline as you age.
Excessive sodium is common in processed foods and at restaurants. Looking at the nutritional content of the meals online before we went out to lunch one day, I noticed one meal contained 9500 mg of sodium!
While the optimal amount of salt is still uncertain, most groups recommend between 1500-2300 mg of sodium a day. Whether this is a good amount is still being studied because it’s effect varies from person to person. Remember also that potassium balances sodium. So the quality of your diet impacts the your health as well.
Make foods yourself to control the salt content. Use nutrient dense foods and flavor with spices instead of large amounts of salt. Use sea salt which contains useful trace minerals.
Salt is my kryptonite. What’s yours?
There are plenty of quality, nutritious, yummy foods out there to enjoy. Find some healthier substitutes and give your brain a break.
Next time, we’ll discuss what vitamins and minerals your brain needs to thrive and what foods contain them. We know we should renew our minds spiritually, but now we know we can renew our minds physically as well!
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“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7