Most of the time when we think about cleaning up our diets, it’s usually in the pursuit of a smaller jean size or more energy to power through our days and workouts. However, what we eat impacts our physical appearance and our mental cognition and performance, too. Certain foods can make our brains age faster. Many grocery stores and fast food finds do this, but the biggie to be mindful of are inflammatory foods, according to Serena Poon, certified nutritionist and celebrity chef.
As she explains, not only do inflammatory foods degrade physical health, researchers have also found that These foods can cause brain functions to decline more quickly.
“Some of the main inflammatory culprits, such as added sugar, processed meat and refined carbohydrates, are pretty pervasive in the standard American diet,” she adds.
Here is a breakdown of the different inflammatory foods to watch for, and why these should be omitted or limited in your diet for long-term brain health. Then, be sure to read our report on The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.
Poon says consuming too much added sugar has been shown to impair memory and increase the risk of dementia. Sadly, added sugar can be found nearly everywhere: from beverages and desserts to salad dressings that are disguised as ‘healthy.’
“Opt for unsweetened options or explore making your own food at home to keep your sugar consumption in check,” she says.
Refined carbs are lurking in white bread, baked goods, and breakfast cereals. These lack nutritional value and Poon says researchers have found that consuming them can impact cognitive health in a number of ways, including altered function in several areas of the brain.
“Instead, opt for whole-grain options and other complex carbohydrates such as those found in legumes and vegetables,” she says.
Last but not least, processed meat isn’t doing your noggin’ any favors. Poon says researchers have found that processed meats are linked to a significantly increased risk of developing dementia, a disease defined by cognitive decline.
And remember, vegan options are much better since one study found that those who ate low-quality vegetarian and vegan diets, including foods with highly processed ingredients, were more susceptible to depression.
“In contrast, researchers have found that anti-inflammatory diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH diet, and diets that are rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, and fatty acids can support longevity in your brain,” Poon says. “Vegetables and fruits are rich in antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties, support gut health (which by the way plays a major role in mental health) and improve mitochondrial function, which all support longevity.”
To get you started, here are our 15 Best Mediterranean Diet Recipes.