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Fight Forgetfulness With Food: Guinness Record Holder For Memory Says Diet Key For Better Recall – Study Finds

5 minutes, 14 seconds Read

Imagine this: you’re at the grocery store hurriedly picking up dinner for the family, when you lock eyes with familiar face. You’ve met this person. You know this person. Are they an old high school friend? A fellow PTA member? You can’t place them. “Please, please don’t say hello,” you think. This is not a good time for awkward conversation. Disaster awaits at home if you don’t get back soon. And now you’re left with that gnawing dilemma of trying to figure out who in the world this familiar “stranger” is — while kicking yourself for having such a clouded memory. It’s an all-too familiar scenario for many of us, particularly in middle age.

It’s not uncommon to forget a name (or items on your shopping list). We’re all forgetful from time to time, but frequent cognitive difficulties can be jarring. Could it be early onset dementia? What if you were told your poor memory wasn’t cognitive decline, but just a consequence of the food you consume? Scientists are discovering more and more that cognitive function is related to diet. Yup, what you eat affects how you think. StudyFinds spoke with memory expert, author, and two-time Guinness World Record holder for memory, Dave Farrow.

With years of experience learning how to train his brain for enhanced function and memory, Farrow knows firsthand how diet plays a critical role in this. 

Dave Farrow, Guinness World Record Holder for Memory
Dave Farrow, Guinness World Record Holder for Memory

Unforgettable Formula: Poor Diet = Poor Memory

We can all likely agree that sugar has a negative impact on our health and can cause us to feel cognitively sluggish, but that extends to artificial sugars as well. A recent study conducted by Florida State University College of Medicine researchers found that aspartame appears to have a link to learning and memory problems in mice. The mice in the study were split into three groups for four months. One group only drank water, the second group consumed water with aspartame equivalent to two diet sodas per day, and the third drank water with aspartame equal to four diet sodas per day. The mice were then tasked with finding a “safe” box among 40 boxes. Mice that were not given aspartame found the box relatively quickly, while those that consumed the sweetener took considerably longer.

While artificial sweeteners are bad for the brain, Farrow points out how a diet filled with any processed ingredients can play a key role in memory loss. He says that refined sugars, oils, and carbohydrates can be specifically detrimental to cognitive function. You have to watch out for refined sugars and oils, things like canola oil, margarine, as opposed to butter and olive oil, that sort of thing,” he says.

Sugar is notorious for providing a jolt of energy followed by a lethargic period. One study conducted at Aarhus University in Denmark shows that sugar actually influences our brains’ reward centers in essentially the same way as addictive drugs. Simply put, eating diets high in sugar can impair our cognitive functions from memory to our ability to focus.

Sugars lurk in unexpected places such as refined flour. “So if you’re eating pasta every day, or you’re eating a lot of bread every day,” Farrow says, “you’re essentially throwing your insulin levels off constantly, and that affects your mind’s ability to focus.”

Mediterranean Diet Could Be Best For Brain

Farrow warns there’s a trickle-down effect when your executive and cognitive functions slow down. It can even affect our mental health. “You might even think that you have things like depression, anxiety, memory loss, all these sorts of things. And a dietary change makes a huge difference,” he says.

And according to related studies, he is correct. Many studies show that mental health may begin in the gut.

Researchers believe the Mediterranean diet may help people suffering with poor mental health by helping their gut release serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and other physiological functions in the body. Because the Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains (and excludes processed foods, sugars, and fast food), studies show it can help relieve symptoms of depression. Moreover, this organic-based diet has also been linked to a lower incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and overall mental well-being.

Happy couple eating at restaurant on a dateHappy couple eating at restaurant on a date
You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat.” Perhaps the phrase should instead be updated to say, “Your memory is what you eat.” (© Joshua Resnick – stock.adobe.com)

Memory loss is not only linked to what we eat, but when we eat. Research suggests a time-restricted eating schedule may also promote a stronger memory and lead to less accumulation of amyloid proteins in the brain — a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Intermittent fasting has gained popularity as a means to weight-loss. It involves limiting meals to a certain window of time. Often adults who engage the method fast for about 14 hours each day. 

Still, many individuals may find intermittent fasting too challenging to successfully follow this form of dieting. Instead, Farrow suggests a 48-hour “sugar fast.”

“One of the things you might not realize is when you eat sugar, there are microbes in your gut that eat that sugar and they secrete a substance that makes you crave more sugar. Just get rid of refined flour and refined sugar for about two days. A lot of these microbes will die off,” he says.

This doesn’t mean that your body won’t experience intense sugar cravings. Finding healthy options like berries or other fruits to fill the void is a good way to keep the cravings at bay. And when that happens, you give your brain a cognitive boost — and you might just be able to recognize that unfamiliar yet familiar face at the supermarket.

Brainhacker by Dave Farrow

Farrow earned his Guinness World Records by recalling the exact order of 59 decks of shuffled playing cards. He’s since shared his tactics by coining “The Farrow Memory Method,” which he describes in his book Brainhacker. In addition to diet, his book reveals tips, tricks, and methods to improve memory and cognitive performance.

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