Eating mostly whole foods as nature intended is the best recipe for a brain-healthy diet. This minimizes consumption of food additives, some of which are bad for your brain. But most of us, even with the best intentions, eat food that comes in a can or a box at least once in awhile!
The FDA allows 3,000 additives to be used in the US food supply. Reading labels is a good place to start for avoiding dangerous additives, but this can be confusing.
Not all additives are unhealthy. You will find everyday items on the list like salt, vitamin C, and acetic acid (vinegar). You’ll also find long-winded names like Eleutherococcus senticosus which may sound suspicious, but is actually the healthy herb ginseng.
And some of the worst health offenders aren’t required to be on the label!
I’ve ferreted out a handful of additives that are known for harming the brain. Here is my “Hit List”, plus ways to easily avoid exposure.
This artificial sweetener is bad news any way you look at it. Currently, there are 92 categories of complaints filed against aspartame with the FDA. And ironically, it is highly suspected of making people who use it fatter!
Original studies were falsified to hide the fact that animals fed aspartame developed seizures and brain tumors, but the FDA approved it anyway. The FDA has a history of caring more about big business than your well-being.
Aspartame is made up of three brain-damaging chemicals — aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.
Formerly known as Nutrasweet, but now called AminoSweet, this is one of the easiest brain-damaging chemicals to avoid since it is clearly labeled.
While the affects of aspartame have been well-publicized, those of the artificial sweetener sucralose are not as well known. Sucralose is marketed as Splenda whose ads say “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar”. What the ads don’t tell you is that sucralose is sugar bonded to chlorine, making it a toxic chlorocarbon.
Some common neurological side effects are headaches, migraines, dizziness, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and tinnitus. Another side effect is weight gain which rather defeats the purpose.
Sucralose prevents nutrient absorption and reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50%. This leads to an overabundance of bad bacteria which has numerous negative effects on your brain including damage to the hippocampus, the part of the brain where memories are stored.
Stop drinking diet soda or eating foods with this or any other artificial sweetener. You’d be better off going back to sugar! My favorite healthy sweetener is stevia. This naturally sweet herb can be used to sweeten foods and drinks with zero calories, naturally.
Americans love their popcorn, munching down 17.3 billion quarts of popped corn each year! But home-popped microwave popcorn usually contains butter flavoring with the additive diacetyl. It’s already established this chemical causes a serious condition called “microwave popcorn lung”.
Diacetyl is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a defense which prevents harmful substances from entering the brain. It causes beta-amyloid clumping which is a significant indicator of Alzheimer’s.
You won’t see the word diacetyl on the label, but if you see “artificial butter flavor” or “natural flavors” on the label assume it contains diacetyl.
I’m as bummed about this as you are. But you can eat popcorn safely.
The best way to get healthy popcorn is to pop your own. It’s fast, fun, and highly economical. Kids of all ages will get a kick of out making popcorn the old-fashioned way. If you like butter flavor, just use the real thing. Turns out there is nothing wrong with using a little butter, anyway.
Butter is a particularly good source of vitamin A and the fatty acid butyrate. Butyrate reduces chronic inflammation and counters neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Monosodium glutamate, usually referred to simply as MSG, is ubiquitous in processed foods. It breaks down in the body into glutamate, a known excitotoxin — a substance that literally stimulates brain cells to death!
A truly alarming thing about MSG is that it is in just about everything, yet it is not required to be on labels. This makes it very difficult to avoid.
It is required to be listed on a label only if it’s 100% pure MSG. Spices, flavorings, and natural flavorings can all contain up to 99% MSG with no mention on the label!
Generally the saltier the food, the more MSG it will have, with worst offenders including canned soups, snacks, and ramen noodles.
And don’t think that shopping at a health food store will protect you. Health food items are not immune, especially refined soy products like soy burgers.
Top MSG Sources
Here are some ingredients to watch out for that always contain MSG:
• Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
• Hydrolyzed plant protein
• Hydrolyzed protein
• Plant protein extract
• Calcium caseinate
• Sodium caseinate
• Yeast extract
• Textured protein
• Autolyzed yeast
These ingredients can contain MSG:
• Malt extract
• Malt flavoring
• Natural flavoring
• Beef flavoring
• Chicken flavoring
Another huge source of MSG is fast food restaurants. MSGTruth.org has a list of the worst offenders with KFC being at the top of the list. Even their salads and green beans contain MSG!
Aluminum is an additive in baking powder and anti-caking agents, but it is used as much more than just a food ingredient. It is the most abundant metal in the the earth’s crust so is hard to avoid. It’s in drinking water, antacids, deodorant, cans, foil, and is commonly used in cookware.
Aluminum is suspected of contributing to Alzheimer’s. In the 1970′s, autopsies revealed that people that had Alzheimer’s had a larger than normal concentration of aluminum in the brain. This understandably began a scare that aluminum was the cause of Alzheimer’s.
Many people consequently stopped using aluminum cookware. This soft metal leeches into food especially when cooking acidic foods like tomato, lemon, or vinegar.
Stainless steel is the better cookware choice. It is more durable, scratch-resistant, and less reactive than aluminum. It’s easier to keep looking good for the long haul, too.
You can also find aluminum-free deodorants, baking powder and antacids. You can cook on parchment paper instead of foil. But is all this necessary?
Scientific proof can come slowly. It’s been 40 years since the aluminum-Alzheimer’s correlation was made, but science has still not determined for certain whether ingesting aluminum contributes to this disease for sure. But since it is a known neurotoxin, it only makes sense to minimize your exposure.
Avoiding these five chemicals is not that difficult. There are healthy alternatives, so you can reduce exposure with little effort. Taking action will help you reduce exposure to brain toxins, a key factor in keeping your brain mentally sharp for a lifetime.
Aluminum & Alzheimer’s Is There a Connection? at Student.Biology.Arizona.edu
Bronchiolitis Obliterans at Popcorn-Lung-Disease.com
List of Food Additives (US) at Wikipedia.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. She teaches the best ways to stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com. Learn how to protect your brain and optimize your brainpower – sign up for her free e-course 21 Days to a Brighter Brain here.