Food can nourish not just the part of our body we dont see but when you think of food, you probably think of that dreaded four-letter word: DIET.
Or maybe you think of fuel for your body or a source of happiness (or frustration) in your life. What you probably don’t think of is a powerful influence that affects your emotions, your personality, your health, the quality and quantity of your memories, and even who you are as a person.
Your brain represents only 2 – 4% of your total body mass, which is about 2 – 4 pounds for the average person. However, your brain also consumes about 20% of all the energy from your food.
Plus, the type of fuel you give your brain through food and supplements has a critical influence on how you think, feel and experience life.
As a neurologist, Dr. Majid Fotuhi puts it: What you eat will re-shape your brain for better or for worse.
Which nutrients does my brain need and how much?
There are certain nutrients your brain absolutely needs, there are some you can consume in higher doses to increase performance and some nutrients your body absolutely doesn’t want.
Let’s start with what your brain absolutely needs each day:
To function properly and consistently repair cells, your brain needs the energy you get from food. However, if you go on an extreme, long term calorie restricting diet, not only are you restricting the fuel you’re giving your body, you’re also restricting the fuel you’re giving your brain.
Why is this dangerous?
While your intentions may be in the right place, you may effectively be starving your brain, which leads to brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, slower and more difficult learning, feeling unmotivated, etc.
And most dangerously, malnutrition over prolonged periods can even physically shrink your brain.
In the short term, fasting for a period of no more than 5 days, actually can boost the stem cell production in your brain and help grow your brain, but that is only for short term fasts.
Long Term Calorie restrictive diets are NOT the way to go.
Let’s say you’re on a strict calorie restrictive diet that limits you to 70% of the actual caloric fuel you (and your brain) need on an average day. This means you’re not getting 30% of the vitamins, minerals and energy you need just to operate at baseline which equates to about 6% direct malnutrition to your brain.
Food is an important first piece in improving your overall memory. Starving your brain makes you angry, short tempered, dull and emotional. And frankly, it never gets you to your goal.
Do you know where the willpower comes from to stick with a healthy practice? It comes from feeding your brain the right fuel in the right amounts to stay strong.
First, Start With What to Remove From Your Diet
If you want to improve your memory, it is just as important to remove certain foods that are memory killers as it is to add certain foods that are scientifically proven to boost your memory.
Let’s look at the foods to remove first.
#1 Food (To Remove) For A Better Memory is Sugar
WebMD even asks the question: “Is sugar worse for you than say, cocaine?” When up to 80% of all foods we can buy in a grocery store contain sugar, it can feel like a losing battle. Not only is sugar proven to be highly addictive—meaning the more you eat, the more you want to eat—we’re finding that over time, sugar can contribute to the shrinking of your hippocampus (the memory sector of your brain), which is a hallmark symptom of memory problems.
How Does Sugar Affect Your Memory?
Research suggests that sugar forms free radicals in the brain and compromises the nerve cells’ ability to communicate. This can have serious repercussions in how well we remember instructions, process ideas, and manage our moods. In the short term, you’ve probably seen how sugar can mess with your emotions and adrenaline surges, a.k.a. the stress hormones. Your memory issues may not be age-related. It might be what you’re eating.
What happens when you eat sugar?
When you eat sugar, your insulin spikes, which briefly increases your dopamine levels. (Think of dopamine as the “happy chemical.”) For a short period, you feel happy and energized… perhaps a little hyper. But this high quickly wears off (i.e. NOT a stable source of energy), and eventually you come crashing down. This familiar “sugar crash” produces the stress chemical adrenaline, which can leave you feeling anxious, moody, exhausted and even depressed in the aftermath.
How MUCH sugar is safe?
The USDA recommends staying under 10 teaspoons (40 grams) of added sugar a day. This daily sugar limit doesn’t include natural fruit and vegetable sugars in their pure forms like an apple.
We also know through countless studies that obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes can shrink the size and performance of your brain. So if you want to cut the risk of memory loss, the first and fastest thing you can do is educate yourself on brain-healthy foods vs brain- shrinking foods— and immediately remove the dangerous foods from your diet.
#2 Food (To Remove) For A Better Memory is Salt
Salt can be a big culprit, mainly due to excess. Salt is an essential mineral we need to survive, however the USDA recommendation is just 1,500 mg a day. The average American eats 3,400 mg/day, primarily because our culture tends to consume a lot of processed and packaged foods. These are the worst when it comes to unknowingly consuming extremely unhealthy doses of salt—which by the way, also increases your risk of stroke.
#3 Food (To Remove) For A Better Memory is trans fat
Trans fats are also dangerous to brain health. Typical trans fats are often found in fried foods, margarine, shortening, non-dairy creamers, ice cream, cake mixes, microwave popcorn, ground beef, frozen dinners, cookies and crackers.