It's not just sugar that makes you dumb, as new research proves. We found the science to back up more foods that drain your brain.
In case you missed it: 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 and up your consumption of foods rich in omega-3s, including walnuts, salmon, flax seeds and almonds 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: Avoid processed meat, like bacon, or lean cuts. Get more protein from vegetable sources, like green leafy veggies and legumes.
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, apple chips and baby carrots with almond butter, make for healthy snacks instead of processed cookies and chips.
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 that when 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.
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 mental tasks.
Use the news: Because of mixed study results, you might not want to spit just yet but it's healthy to avoid gum with aspartame in the ingredients. 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.