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 these 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.
But 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. (Seems like they care more about big business than your well-being.)
Aspartame is made up of three brain-damaging chemicals — aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Learn how these chemicals affect your brain in Warning! This Sweetener May Affect Your Memory, and Worse…
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 point!
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 affects on your brain including damage to the hippocampus, the part of the brain where memory is stored. Learn more about how your brain health and digestive health are connected here.
Stop drinking diet soda or eating foods with this or any other artificial sweetener. You’ll be better off going back to sugar! My favorite healthy sweetener is SweetLeaf Stevia. Use it 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 diacetyl on the label, but if you see “artificial butter flavor” or “natural flavors” you should avoid it.
I’m as bummed about this as you are. But there are two ways to eat popcorn safely.
- Find a brand of popcorn that is chemical-free. Quinn Popcorn has flavors for the most discerning tastes including Vermont maple & sea salt and parmesan & rosemary. They take purity to the next level with “pure pop bags” that contain only paper — no chemicals. This specialty item might be hard to find, but you can get this at our Amazon store.
- The second alternative is to pop your own. It’s fast, fun, and highly economical. It gives you total control over your ingredients. Check out the PopLite Hot Air Popper. It uses hot air instead of oil and has your snack ready even faster than microwaving! If you love real butter on your popcorn, it has a feature to automatically add your own butter. Kids of all ages will get a kick of out making popcorn the old-fashioned way.
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!
Check for any food items that obviously contain MSG. We’ve listed ingredients to watch out for and products that contain MSG in Shelve This Common Food Additive to Keep Your Brain Safe.
I’ve always tossed bouillon cubes into stews and soups for added richness and flavor, but they are loaded with MSG. Herb Ox now carries Bouillon Cubes that are MSG-free. If you can’t find them locally, you can buy them from our Amazon store.
Aluminum — More than a Food Additive
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. If you’re ready to trade up to stainless, Cuisinart’s Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set is a fantastic deal!
You can also find aluminum-free deodorants, baking powder and antacids. Instead of foil, you can cook on parchment paper. 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. But since it is a known neurotoxin, it only makes sense to minimize your exposure.
Avoiding these five chemicals is not that difficult. Below 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 revitalizing your brain.
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
Our Best Recommendations for Brain Health & Fitness
All-natural, non-caloric sweetener
Gourmet additive-free popcorn Popcorn flavors for the most discerning tastes including Vermont maple & sea salt and parmesan & rosemary. Quinn takes purity to the next level with “pure pop bags” that contain only paper — no chemicals.
Presto Poplite Hot Air Popper
Hot air popcorn maker Uses hot air instead of oil and has your snack ready in even less time than microwaving! Control your popcorn ingredients. It’s fast, fun, and highly economical.
Herb-Ox MSG-Free Beef Bouillon Cubes
MSG-free beef concentrate Get the flavor boost of bouillon without the MSG. Beef concentrate with dried herbs makes a delicious addition to soups and stews.
Cuisinart Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set
Stainless steel cookware Stainless steel is a favorite cookware choice. It is more durable, scratch-resistant, and less reactive than aluminum. Upgrading from aluminum cookware is healthy and this set is a fantastic deal!
Rumford Aluminum-Free Baking Powder
Double-acting baking powder Every kitchen needs baking powder. This one is free of aluminum, gluten, GMOs, and is certified Kosher.