If it’s true you are what you eat, then most people are walking garbage cans. Some foods are naturally healthier to eat, but the average person often doesn’t take the time to prepare a nutritionally-balanced meal. Many highly-processed foods contain empty calories but some whole foods, such as those containing omega-3 fatty acids, can actually boost brainpower. They also contribute to your overall good health.
Foods containing highly-processed white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which is another name for sugar, eventually affect the brain if eaten long enough and in large enough quantities. Marketing companies may launch their advertising campaigns trying to convince the public that high fructose corn syrup is harmless and necessary for flavor, texture or as a preservative, but they are part of an unhealthy diet. Over time, sugar and fructose can make it harder to focus and think clearly. For example, there are countless cases where school age children perform better in class when they begin eating healthier.
Too much white sugar and corn syrup is unhealthy at any age. Medical studies have repeatedly proved high levels of fructose contribute to diabetes, liver problems and even ADHD. Now, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles have scientifically proven, through experiments with rats, that fructose can impair cognitive abilities and lower intelligence.
Not all fructose is bad. Fructose found naturally in fresh fruits is healthy and contains antioxidants, but the man-made kind added to fruit drinks, sodas and mass processed foods as a sweetener is best avoided. The adverse health effects of high-fructose corn syrup are multiple, says the Mayo Clinic. They can include:
- Higher triglyceride levels, raising the risk for a heart attack
- Poor nutrition
- Weight gain
Regularly consuming sugary foods and drinks impairs the brain’s ability to remember what it learned previously, the UCLA’s scientists found. Each year, the average American ingests about 47 pounds of white cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
By contrast, individuals who make an effort to regularly eat healthy, whole foods look better, feel better and think more clearly. Foods containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, help you stay focused and improve the performance of the synapses in the brain linked to memory and learning. The key is something called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
“DHA is essential for synaptic function, the brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to one another,” says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a neurosurgery professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and the school’s Brain Research Institute. “This is the mechanism that makes learning and memory possible. Our bodies can’t produce enough DHA, so it must be supplemented through our diet.”
As you age, your body needs more help getting the vitamins and minerals it needs. Omega-3 fatty acids can fight depression, Alzheimer’s and dementia. That’s why eating whole foods is so important for adults over age 50. Some foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Mollusks and oysters
- Free-range poultry and beef
- Green peppers
- Raw spinach
- Pinto or kidney beans
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- Ready-to-eat cereals
- Wheat germ
Paying special attention to the nutrition labels when strolling down the supermarket aisle is a good strategy. Not only does the label tell you the portion or serving size but the calorie count, carbohydrate count, fat and sugar content as well. The first thing listed is the main ingredient, so if it’s sugar or high-fructose corn syrup it’s best to put it back.
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