The #1 Eating Habit to Avoid to Keep Your Brain in Shape, Dietitian Says: Eat This, Not That

There are so many lifestyle factors that play a role in the health of your brain. Socialization, sleep, physical exercise and nutrition are just some of the pillars that can keep you fit. When it comes to nutrition, there are certain foods that we know can support brain health, such as those rich in omega-3s, fruits, vegetables, and antioxidant-rich items.

While these are the foods you should be enjoying on a regular basis, there is one eating habit you should avoid to keep your brain fit… consume high amounts of refined sugar. Read on to learn more about how processed sugar can negatively impact your brain.

It is important to first differentiate between the sugar found naturally in foods like milk and fruit, and the processed sugar often added to foods and beverages. When you talk about refined sugar, think about what you use in baking, what you might add to your coffee, the type of sugar in sodas and juices, and the form it’s found in a variety of candies, cakes, and even savory sauces.

The American Heart Association estimates that adults consume about 77 grams of sugar a day, about three times the recommended intake for women. For reference, the AHA recommends that women consume less than 25 grams per day, while men should consume no more than 36 grams.

sugary junk food

A diet high in refined sugar is thought to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and investigate suggests that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Other study documented a correlation between blood glucose levels and dementia, where higher glucose levels in people with and without diabetes were associated with an increased risk of dementia.

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While there are genetic factors that likely play a role in brain health and risk of memory-related illness, current research indicates that your food and beverage choices also have an impact. In fact, another study completed in rats found that a diet high in sugar, especially in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, can increase brain inflammation and lead to memory problems.

A modest amount of sugar probably won’t negatively affect your health, and if you find yourself consuming multiple sources of sugar on a daily basis, try to cut back to meet the AHA’s recommendations for sugar intake. Swap regular sodas for sugar-free diet or sparkling water, use a calorie-free sugar substitute instead of sugar, swap sweets for fruit, and eat foods high in protein and fiber to stay full and satisfied—and less likely to eat excess sugar items.

Many of the current studies looking at the impact of sugar on the brain have been done on animals. While this is helpful, gives us preliminary information, and serves as a model for similar studies in humans, more research is needed to create conclusive guidelines on sugar intake for brain health.

However, what we currently know points to limiting refined sugar intake to reduce the risk of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and even obesity and heart disease.