It’s never too late to start eating in a way that gives you the best possible chance of preventing dementia as you age, according to Dr. Uma Naidoo. She’s a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert and faculty member at Harvard Medical School who studies how gut bacteria can trigger metabolic processes and brain inflammation that impact memory. She explains that studies suggest we may be able to lower the risk for dementia by avoiding foods that can compromise our gut bacteria and weaken memory and focus.
To promote brain health, sharp thinking and good decision-making, these are the foods Dr. Naidoo recommends avoiding or cutting back on, which may include some favorites:
- Added sugars - The brain uses energy in the form of glucose for fuel, but a high-sugar diet can lead to excess glucose in the brain and studies have linked that to memory issues. Processed sweets like soda and baked goods can flood the brain with too much glucose, so try to stick to the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day for women, 36 grams for men.
- Fried foods - We love fish and chips, tempura and French fries, but they’re not good for brain health. A study of more than 18-thousand people finds a diet high in fried foods is linked to lower scores for memory and learning and it all comes down to these guilty pleasure foods causing inflammation, which can damage blood vessels that supply the brain with blood.
- Alcohol - A long-term study of over 9-thousand people finds that those who drank more than 14 alcoholic drinks a week have a higher risk of dementia than those who consume in moderation.
- Nitrates - These are used to preserve and enhance color in deli slices and cured meats like bacon and salami, but nitrates are also linked with depression. And one recent study even suggests that nitrates can change gut bacteria in a way that tips the scales toward bipolar. If you can’t give up your bacon and the like, look for those containing buckwheat flour, which is used as a filler and contains important antioxidants that can counter some of the negative health effects of these meats.