We all occasionally forget where we put our keys, or temporarily acquire the attention span of a gnat and need copious amount of caffeine in order to make it through the day. If, however, you constantly feel sluggish and have trouble concentrating, it might be time to evaluate your diet. It shouldn’t come as a big shock to hear that our eating habits can have a direct impact on our mental well-being, and that specific foods can prevent us from operating at optimal levels.
Lauren Elkins, in-house dietician at Marina Del Rey Hospital in Southern California, says, “Diseases of cognitive decline such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are viable fears for us as we age, and you may have already guessed that your diet can play a role in the development of these diseases.”
Dr. Robert Glatter, attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, confirms that the modern Western diet (high in saturated fat and sugar), can directly contribute to memory-related illnesses such Alzheimer’s.
“Eating a diet that is excessive in simple carbohydrates and saturated fat, typical of the Western diet, is associated with cognitive impairment — specifically linked to impairments in learning and memory function which rely upon a functional hippocampus,” he explains.
Another major contributor to cognitive impairment is “oxidation and inflammation throughout the body,” says Elkins. “Oxidation is a form of cell breakdown. Oxidation can occur both in the foods you eat before you consume them as well as throughout the body as the nutrients you have taken in come into contact with your cells. Oxidation, along with other agitations to the body’s cells, can lead to the immune response of inflammation. Inflammation throughout the body inhibits efficiency and balance throughout. When your body is in a constant state of oxidation and inflammation, due largely in part to your diet, it can lead to memory loss and decline in cognitive function.”
It’s not all doom and gloom; there are key foods we can consume that boost brain power and enhance memory. “Cognitive decline can very well be managed with the avoidance of certain foods,” says Elkins. “Foods that are seen to improve function and protect from future oxidation include fruits and berries, dark leafy vegetables, salmon, green tea, and dark chocolate.”
In our never-ending quest for better brain health, we ask the experts to help us identify and eliminate some of the most common culprits that can contribute to memory loss:
“This processed cheese is high in saturated fat and contains chemical additives, along with artificial flavors and colors.” says Deborah Orlick Levy, M.S., R.D., Carrington Farms health and nutrition consultant. “This combination is unhealthy not only to your body but also to your brain.”
“As much as you might enjoy bacon, any more than one slice at a time could affect your memory," says registered dietician Keri Gans. “Supposedly, consuming more than four grams in a hour of saturated fat can raise the bad cholesterol in your blood and cause inflammation of your brain neurons. A four-ounce serving of bacon can have as much as 15.5 grams of saturated fat.”