Save Your Brain: Avoid Processed Foods

Whether you’re young, middle-aged, or getting up there, it’s important to be as healthy as possible. Being healthy doesn’t ensure that you’ll live to 100, but it certainly improves your chances. Even if you get unlucky and an angry bull charges toward you while you’re crossing a field, you’ll be able to react quickly and avoid getting gored.

One of the best ways to maintain good health is to watch what you eat. Unless you’re eating restaurant food, you shouldn’t put anything in your mouth without being aware of all the ingredients. Watch out for foods that have an ingredient list longer than the credits of a Bollywood movie.

For example, I just took a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of my kitchen cupboard and looked at the ingredients: “whole grain wheat, sugar, rice flour, canola and/or sunflower oil, fructose, maltodextrin, dextrose, salt, cinnamon, trisodium phosphate, soy lecithin, caramel color, BHT added to preserve freshness.”

Whoever named this cereal was quite brilliant. “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” sounds a lot more appetizing than the name I would have come up with: “Maltodextrin Trisodium Phosphate Fortified with BHT.”

According to WebMD, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is a lab-made chemical that is used as a food preservative as well as a medicine to treat genital herpes. But please don’t apply Cinnamon Toast Crunch anywhere but your mouth.

As you probably know, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is quite tasty. My kids love it – and so do I. My wife calls it a “dessert cereal,” meaning that it’s sweet enough to enjoy as a dessert. I call it a “desert cereal,” meaning that millions of kids, including mine, would cross the Sahara to have some.

But like many products found in grocery stores these days, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is not just processed food, it qualifies as highly processed food. Processed foods are bad for us because they’re often loaded with sugars, refined grains, fats, preservatives, and salt. Preservatives give these foods longer shelf life while giving us a shorter shelf life.

If something is ready to eat but can sit for months, or even years, on a shelf or inside a refrigerator, you may want to take a long look at the ingredients list. But it’s hard to resist store-bought chips, cookies, breads and cakes; frozen meals that can be quickly heated in the oven or microwave, and instant soups that instantly make us unhealthy. (Important tip: If your spoon floats on top of your soup, you may want to check the salt content.)

Many of the ingredients in processed foods offer no nutritional benefit. Instead, they put us at greater risk for obesity, heart and circulation problems, diabetes, and cancer. If that isn’t bad enough, a new study shows that processed foods may affect our brains as well.

The study, conducted in Brazil and presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, California, found that people who get more than 20 percent of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods are more likely to suffer cognitive decline compared to people who get less than 20 percent.

“People need to know they should cook more and prepare their own food from scratch,” Dr. Claudia Suemoto of the University of São Paulo Medical School told CNN. “We say we don’t have time but it really doesn’t take that much time.”

She’s right: it doesn’t take that much time. That’s why I’ve decided to make breakfast for my kids every day. I’m going to hide the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in my bedroom closet. And I’m going to make sure that no more than 20 percent of my daily calories come from that closet.

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