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The reason some foods make your brain feel fuzzy

By Lowe: The 100 trillion microorganisms that inhabit your intestines don’t just affect your digestion; they also influence how you think. And if you don’t feed them foods they like, they can take it out on your brain.

Research shows that the bacteria in your digestive tract aren’t merely digestive allies. They produce compounds that circulate in the body and help your nerves transmit signals, boost the function of neurons in the brain and improve your ability to keep memories intact.

And the sugary diet that supermarkets are committed to feeding you does not make these bacteria happy. So in addition to harming your body, these foods are hitting you with a one-two punch to the gut and your brain.

A study at Oregon State shows that when you eat a diet high in sugar, the bacteria respond in ways that gum up your nerve networks, distort their communications and hamper the ability of brain cells to retain information. Foods filled with the kinds of damaged fats found in fast food (heavily refined vegetable oils) also slow things down, but not quite as seriously as sugar.

The lab tests in Oregon show that sugar strongly interferes with what the researchers call “cognitive flexibility,” the ability to improvise and adjust your behavior to a shifting situation.

“The impairment of cognitive flexibility in this study was pretty strong,” says researcher Kathy Magnusson. “Think about driving home on a route that’s very familiar to you, something you’re used to doing. Then one day that road is closed and you suddenly have to find a new way home.”

This makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of one of the reasons I cut out sugary deserts, like pie or ice cream following dinner years ago. I would find myself feeling fuzzy-headed and the last thing I was motivated to do was think about anything seriously except going to bed.

To keep the friendly bacteria in your gut happier and your brain sharper, you need to eat plenty of fibrous fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods. Eat real potatoes, not potato chips. Eat an apple instead of drinking apple juice. Eat fresh strawberries instead of a sugary cereal made with, supposedly, “real strawberries.”

Fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and tempe contain probiotic bacteria that can improve your probiotic health, too.

If you’re a chocolate lover, you’re in luck: Your probiotic bacteria love dark chocolate (although not the sweet, milk chocolate variety). Just don’t overdo it.