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4 of the Worst Foods for Brain Health — and What to Eat Instead

Stay away from these to avoid cognitive decline.


Looking after our brain gets more and more important as we age, and our diet plays an important role when it comes to staying sharp. Eating a diet rich in specific nutrients can certainly help protect you, but avoiding the worst foods for brain health is another way to stay in tip top shape!

The 4 Worst Foods For Brain Health

As it turns out, eating too much of certain foods can put your brain at risk of premature aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Limiting your intake of these foods — or even eliminating them completely — can help you keep those precious brain cells. Check them out below.

Refined Sugar

Refined sugar tops our list of the worst foods for brain health, which may or may not come as a surprise to you. Too much refined sugar in the form of say, things like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), can have detrimental effects on the brain. You’ll find refined sugar in foods like soda, juices, candy, snack foods and even so-called healthy foods like granola bars, sweetened yogurt, canned fruit, and salad dressing!

Indirectly, excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes — and having diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Similarly, consuming too much HFCS can lead to other metabolic disorders like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease — all of which increase your risk of developing dementia. Some animal studies have even indicated that high fructose corn syrup in the diet caused brain inflammation and memory impairment.

Refined Carbs

Refined carbohydrates includes foods like processed white flour (think white breads, pasta, and the like). These foods have had their fiber content removed during processing, which causes them to. elevate blood sugar levels more than their wholegrain counterparts — bad news for your brain.

Refined carbs that raise blood sugar levels have been shown to be bad for your brain. In fact, one study showed that even one meal that raises blood sugar significantly could impair your memory. The researchers stated that this could be because these foods cause inflammation of the hippocampus — an area of the brain that affects memory.

Inflammation of the brain has also been linked to the development of dementia. Researchers from one study, for example, found that among elderly people, those who consumed more than 58 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates had about double the risk of mental impairment and dementia!

Fats (The Bad Ones)

When it comes to your brain health, knowing the difference between good fats and bad fats is super important. Fats like omega-3s have been shown to improve memory and decrease your risk of cognitive decline. On the other hand, fats like trans fats may have the opposite effect.

Trans fats can be identified on your food labels as hydrogenated vegetable oils, and they’re often found in foods like margarine, baked goods like cakes and cookies, nondairy coffee creamers, pre-made refrigerated doughs (like biscuits and croissants), fried foods, and microwave popcorn. Unfortunately, a growing body of research has found that high intake trans fats leads to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, memory loss, and cognitive decline.


There’s no evidence that having a glass of wine or two with dinner here and there is going to damage your brain. However, drinking too much alcohol may hurt your brain in a few different ways.

For one, alcohol effects the brain directly by disrupting neurotransmitters — chemicals that the brain uses to communicate. Chronic use of alcohol has also been associated with reduced brain volume (or brain size).

A large body of research has shown that excessive consumption of alcohol is toxic to the brain. Even further, a recent study found that binge drinking may lead to an earlier onset of Alzheimers — and more severe symptoms.

This information may seem glum, but the good news is, replacing these with the best foods for your brain can be a fun experiment that you feel good about!

Swap processed sugars and high fructose corn syrup with naturally sweet foods like berries and chocolate (that’s the 70 percent cocoa variety), which are high in brain-protecting antioxidants! Switch out vegetable oils for extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil, which are all part of a brain-healthy diet. Snack on nuts like walnuts, pistachios, and almonds, which contain the fats your brain needs to thrive. And lastly, don’t be afraid to inject flavor into your favorite meals with brain-boosting spices that lower inflammation, like turmeric, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon!

With all this information, we can all make changes to our diets that remove the harmful stuff and inject flavor and variety into our days.

Here’s to a healthier, happier brain!

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