Fructose—the sugar that naturally occurs in fruit and is a component, with glucose, of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and table sugar—lights up the brain's reward center, says pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, MD, of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco. But over time, a diet packed with fructose (especially from HFCS) can make it tougher to learn and remember, animal research suggests. To stay in peak mental shape, try sticking with savory snacks.
Scientists believe when we eat plant foods (luscious dark chocolate comes from the cacao plant) rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, their benefits are passed on to us. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable oxygen molecules thought to be responsible for aging and some diseases. “When you have too many free radicals in your body, they start to attack your cells, and that can lead, over time, to low-grade inflammation and to some diseases — cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s,” DuBost says.
When certain types of oxygen molecules are allowed to travel freely in the body, they cause what’s known as oxidative damage, which is the formation of free radicals. When antioxidant levels in the body are lower than that of free radicals — due to poor nutrition, toxin exposure or other factors — oxidation wreaks havoc in the body. The effect? Accelerated aging, damaged or mutated cells, broken-down tissue, the activation of harmful genes within DNA, and an overloaded immune system.