Delicious but Dangerous: Foods You Should Avoid
Fast food: a fast track to dementia
Living on fast food and junk food for just one week could harm your brain and your memory. A month of this junk may raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Just look at what happened to animals that ate a steady diet of junk food such as cake, biscuits, sugary drinks, and lots of fat. Researchers found they developed inflammation in part of the brain related to memory, resulting in memory problems within a week.
“What is so surprising about this research is the speed with which the deterioration occurred,” says Margaret Morris, professor in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales.
The animals ate some of the same foods featured on your favorite fast-food menu. So the next time you’re in the mood for a burger and fries, think about what a typical fast-food meal does to your brain.
Cheeseburger and fries: fat-filled demons.
That cheeseburger and small fry pack a lot of fat. A typical cheeseburger boasts a whopping 14 grams of saturated fat, while a small fry adds another 1.6 grams. Not all of it goes straight to your hips. Some of it winds up wreaking havoc in your brain.
Women who ate the most saturated fat on a regular basis had the worst memory and cognition and saw bigger declines in both over time. Their brains seemed to age six years in just four years.
Saturated fat may also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Eating foods rich in saturated fat every day for a month led to the buildup of amyloid-beta in people’s brains, a sticky protein believed to cause Alzheimer’s. A chemical called apolipoprotein E moves amyloid-beta out of the brain, but saturated fat and sugar block this from happening.
Dangerous trans fat lurks in fast-food apple pie.
Before you order that pie for dessert, think about this. A single slice is loaded with 4.7 grams of trans fat, a type that’s even more dangerous than saturated fat. “While trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people,” warns Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego.
Golomb headed a study that linked trans fat to worse memory in young and middle-aged men. Other research showed that elderly men and women who ate the most trans fat scored worst on tests of memory, attention, thinking, and overall cognition. In addition, their brains shrank more than seniors who ate less trans fat.
Try to avoid margarine, a major source of trans fat, and check the Nutrition Facts panel on prepackaged foods such as frozen pizza and baked and fried goods.
Soda packs a load of sugar.
You think you’re being smart by choosing a small soda instead of a 32-ounce giant. But a 16-ounce soda contains an amazing 10.5 teaspoons of sugar, most of it in the form of fructose. That’s bad news for your brain. High blood sugar leads to inflammation in your hippocampus, the area of your brain that processes and makes memories. Not surprisingly, rats that drank sugar water for six weeks experienced brain changes that hampered their memory and learning.
“What you eat affects how you think,” says Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Medicine. In one study, older adults who ate the most sugar were 1.5 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) within one year, compared to seniors who ate the least sugar. MCI is a forerunner to Alzheimer’s disease.
“While nutrition affects the brain at every age, it is critical as we get older and may be important in preventing cognitive decline,” Margaret Morris explains. That means seniors who eat poorly may have more trouble thinking clearly and remembering. Feed your brain right. Make sure you eat foods that will keep your mind sharp into your 80s and beyond.
- FC&A Staff Writer