Have you ever heard the phrase: “we are what we eat”? Well, there may be a lot of truth in this saying. If in our article “The 5 foods that help improve intelligence” we talked about the benefits that some foods have on our cognitive functioning, in today’s article we will talk about the opposite: the foods that negatively affect our brain.

Foods harmful to our brain

Everything we eat influences the way our body tries to maintain a balance so that all vital functions, tissues and organs are in optimal health, so don’t miss this list of 15 foods that are harmful to your brain function . Let’s get started!

1. Fructose

Fructose is the main sugar naturally found in honey and fruit (and in some vegetables, such as carrots), but other sources, not so healthy, are common or table sugar, sucrose, which contains half fructose and half glucose; and glucose-fructose syrups, which are made from corn and wheat and are used as sweeteners in various foods.

Fructose has a higher Glycemic Index (GI) than glucose, which causes hyperglycemia. A study published in The Journal of Physiology found that fructose has a negative effect on our brain, as affects the functioning of brain cells and how they store the energy needed to process both learning and thoughts.

2. Salty foods

Salty foods such as potato chips in bags cause serious health risks (e.g. high blood pressure). They are also not recommended for weight loss because excess salt is responsible for fluid retention.

Recent studies also state that salt affects our intelligence and impairs our ability to think . This is what explains research published in the journal Neurobiology , as diets containing high sodium are associated with heart problems and cause cognitive impairment to be more rapid.

3. Artificial sweeteners

Many people replace table sugar with other sweeteners for coffee, thinking they are healthy products. The truth is that their prolonged consumption can be just as negative as the product they are intended to replace , as sweeteners can cause brain damage and problems with cognitive capacity.

And even though these people think they are doing their bodies a favor because they consume fewer calories than sugar, in the long run the consequences are just as harmful to their bodies, since these substitutes contain preservatives, colorants and other ingredients that provide flavor or texture, and at the same time, harmful consequences for our health.

4. Monosodium glutamate

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a widely used additive by the food industry, especially in Asian cuisine, and is considered a flavor enhancer, highlighting the nuance of other flavors. However, its components negatively affect our brain through over-excitation of neurons to the point of brain damage.

Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed it as a safe food in 1958, some laboratory studies on animals have shown that eating this substance causes damage to the brain’s nerve cells. In addition, excessive consumption of MSG can cause headaches, fatigue, or disorientation.

5. The fried food

Fried foods may taste great, but for the sake of our brain health, eating them should not be part of our daily diet. These, in addition to being products with a high fat content, also cause cholesterol to affect the arteries . In the long term, fried foods destroy our neurons and impair our ability to learn and memorize.

6. Added sugar

Excess sugar is associated with serious health problems , for example, it suppresses the immune system, weakens eyesight or contributes to obesity. Not only that, but its prolonged consumption affects our brain: it causes neurological problems and learning and memory difficulties. This is the conclusion of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In addition, the researchers concluded that participants in their experiment who consumed between 17-21% of calories in sugar had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

7. Soft drinks

Soft drinks have a very high sugar content. For example, Coca-Cola contains approximately 39 grams of sugar per 330-milliliter can, which is equivalent to almost 10 sugar cubes. Although sporadic consumption of these drinks does not produce any damage to our health, prolonged and excessive consumption can be lethal .

In addition to the negative effects on our brain caused by sugar and discussed in the previous point, soft drinks are prepared compounds containing Aspartic acid and Femilamine, substances that cause damage to brain cells, brain tumors and increase the acidity of urine creating susceptibility to urinary tract infections. On the other hand, several studies have shown that diet soft drinks, with high contents of sugar substitutes, increase the chances of suffering brain damage, memory loss and mental confusion over the years.

8. Junk food

The various media warn us of the dangers of incorporating these foods into our diet, but the truth is that there is more and more access to this type of product. Research has shown that its prolonged consumption affects our brain and causes chemical changes in it , with symptoms similar to withdrawal, and even causing anxiety and depression.

Junk food becomes a drug, and the abuse of these foods has an effect on the area of reinforcement and therefore on dopamine production. This neurotransmitter is actively involved in learning ability, motivation or memory.

9. Saturated fats

The consumption of foods high in saturated fat has increased in recent decades, causing an increase in cases of obesity and associated problems. However, research conducted by Nuria del Olmo and Mariano Ruiz-Gayo at the CEU San Pablo University and presented at the Annual Congress of the Endocrine Society (San Francisco), has concluded that diets rich in saturated fats are not only a problem for physical health, but cause eating disorders , metabolic and cardiovascular diseases and a risk for cognitive development, especially related to memory.

10. Hydrogenated oils

If saturated fats are harmful, even worse are the trans fats found in hydrogenated oils. Experts warn that diets high in trans fats increase beta-amyloid in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease .

In addition, the journal Neurology published research that showed that a high intake of trans fats is associated with brain shrinkage and an increased risk of stroke.

11. Processed and pre-cooked foods

Processed foods meet most of the negative characteristics we have discussed in the previous points. They contain high contents of sugar, fructose, sodium, hydrogenated oils, and therefore these foods can damage the health of the brain. In fact, processed or pre-cooked food affects the central nervous system and increases the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease.

12. Alcohol

Alcohol is known as a food that does not provide nutrients but does provide extra calories to our diet. Along with tobacco, it is undoubtedly one of the most consumed substances and at the same time harmful to our organism. The damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption is well known, but recently a group of researchers from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and the University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) have identified the damage caused at the brain level.

Alcohol causes alterations in the prefrontal area of the brain , a region that controls executive functions such as planning and design of strategies, working memory, selective attention or behaviour control, as well as other areas related to different behavioural or motor functioning alterations.

13. Caffeine

Having coffee in the morning at the office is not a bad thing, because it can help us be a little more alert and carry out tasks with more concentration. However, if abused has a negative side .

The Food and Drug Administration states that 600 milligrams of caffeine a day can cause headaches, raise anxiety and lead to various sleep disorders. Excess caffeine can cause various consequences such as confusion, and more long-term cardiovascular problems and even stroke.

14. Tuna

It is true that tuna is a great food because it provides a large amount of protein, in addition to fatty acids such as Omega-3, and that is why the American Heart Society recommends its consumption at least twice a week. However , big-eye tuna or albacore tuna are rich in mercury , so over-consumption may lead to accelerated cognitive decline.

15. Cured products

Cured products such as Serrano ham, bacon or cured loin, despite their great taste, are rich in fat and salt. When consuming salty products, the body retains more liquid and needs more water . According to a study by Military Medicine , this can lead to dehydration and therefore a decrease in cognitive function.