Holiday season is here and there is nothing like a cozy holiday meal shared among the family members that brings comfort and joy. However, certain types of food are proven to have a damaging effect on the cognitive function, nervous system, and the ability to focus.
We have gathered a list of 5 types of food that are proven to have bad effects on your brain and focus, and found excellent alternatives to help you make better eating decisions during the tempting holiday season, or simply detoxify in the upcoming days and improve your focus, cognitive function and mediate brain health directly.
Refined and added sugars
Hippocampus - the part of the brain that controls memory and “houses” short-term memory is directly impacted when we indulge in food full of refined and added sugar. Soda and juice are among the most “notorious” beverages when it comes to bad sugar levels. A study conducted by Boston School of Medicine shed the light on just how bad sugary drinks are for the brain and focus. The results showed a significant decline in memory and reduced brain volume, specifically in the hippocampus among people who consumed sweetened beverages. Next time, opt-in for freshly squeezed lemon juice, still water, or herbal tea at the holiday dinner table to avoid cognitive and memory decline.
Nitrates and nitrites
These compounds are widely used among manufacturers to preserve processed foods and extend their shelf life, especially red meat such as sausages, deli slices, bacon, and salami. Although these compounds occur naturally in human bodies, vegetables, and even water, there are studies that suggest that nitrates can be turned into nitrites which may be harmful and even cause alterations in brain pathways that have been implicated in human bipolar disorder. If you are a meat-lover and looking for a replacement for nitrates, there are natural ways to cure corned-beef by using celery juice, sauerkraut brine, and mineral salt.
Comfort foods like pizza, pasta, white rice, and bread are known for their high glycemic index which can cause major spikes in blood sugar and weaken your memory and focus. Instead, swap the white carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread. Whole grains contain fiber making them easier to digest and blood sugar is better regulated which leads to a steady energy stream and better ability to focus.
Fish containing high levels of mercury
Mercury is heavy metal and a naturally occurring element that can be found in air, soil, and water. It is known to have toxic effects on the nervous, immune, and digestive system and can be primarily found in certain types of fish such as tilefish, tuna, shark, swordfish. Since predatory-fish are extremely susceptible to accumulating mercury, the nutritionists suggest limiting the consumption of fish rich in mercury to once per week, or replacing it with wild salmon or lake trout.
Excess alcohol consumption
Numerous studies suggest that excess alcohol consumption leads to shrinkage in hippocampus - the brain area associated with reasoning, memory and can significantly increase the risk of dementia. According to scientists, there is a “sweet spot” for alcohol consumption - one drink to celebrate the holidays with the family and friends will not do any harm to the nervous system, however, it is always crucial to consider the context in which people consume alcohol in an unhealthy way.
In case you couldn’t resist the holiday temptations, consider a detox from a major holiday indulgence:
- Drink warm lemon water - Drinking warm water with lemon on an empty stomach is proven to have several health benefits. Lemons contain vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that fights harmful free radicals. Free radicals can spark a chemical reaction called oxidative stress which can damage brain cells, leading to poor brain function and cognitive decline. Additionally, flavonoids from citrus fruits are excellent for eliminating inflammation from the body.
- Prepare wholesome, plant-based meals - Much research has examined the benefits of plant-based nutrients which are proven to increase brain function. Combine leafy greens with good fats - olive oil, olives, seeds, nuts, and avocados to ensure a solid calorie intake that will give you enough energy to remain productive and stay focused. The Harvard Health Eating Plate is an excellent visual guide created by nutritionists at Harvard School of Public Health and could help determine the correct proportion of the plant-based nutrients:
- Eat light at night - Aligning your eating patterns with circadian rhythms will help your body function optimally and significantly improve your metabolic health. What and when you eat determines how much sugar goes into your bloodstream and how quickly it gets there. Numerous studies indicate that blood sugar control is best in the morning, and worst in the evenings. Ideally, your last meal of the day should be smaller in portion and consist of higher levels of protein, healthful fats and limited carbohydrates.
- 150 - 180 min of exercising per week is crucial - Although food plays an important role in enhancing brain function and performance, exercising on a regular basis will further support your cognitive and nervous system function. As you exercise, the mitochondria in your cells work very hard to become stronger and create energy to sustain the exercising periods, which means that working out even in small amounts will leave you feeling energized. Make sure to go for a walk, do yoga, or a light resistance exercise after indulging in a holiday feast to feel re energized and restored.