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Avoid drinking, smoking at table

In my last column, I discussed at some length how salt and other edible items can impair your poker game, so you are more likely to go home a loser. There are other foods and nicotine of which you should be aware of.

• Junk foods can change the chemistry of your brain, leading to depression and anxiety. These foods contain excessive amounts of fat which affect the production of dopamine, an important chemical that promotes a feeling of well-being.

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Dopamine also supports your cognitive function — your ability to learn new things, alertness, motivation, and memory, helpful in keeping you sharp at the poker table.

• Fried foods. Almost all processed foods contain ingredients — chemicals, dyes, additives, artificial flavors, preservatives — that can affect your cognitive functioning. Fried foods slowly destroy the nerve cells located in the brain. Some edible oils are more dangerous than others; sunflower oil being among the most toxic. Poker players are wise to avoid these.

• Processed or pre-cooked foods. Just like fried foods, processed or pre-cooked foods impact your central nervous system and may also increase the risk of developing a degenerative brain disorder later in life. That can only hurt your poker game.

• Regular grains — other than 100% whole grain. Except for 100% whole grain, many grain foods can harm your brain functioning and overall health.

Consuming regular grains, your body tends to age quicker and you can also experience memory loss and brain fog. It is best to eat whole grain foods so your poker game will not suffer.

• Processed proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of muscles and are important for the proper functioning of your body. Meat is the richest source of high-quality protein, but avoid overly processed protein such as hot dogs, salami, sausages, and such.

Unlike the natural proteins that help your body insulate the nervous system, processed proteins do exactly the opposite. Instead of processed proteins, opt for fish (especially tuna and salmon), dairy, walnuts, and seeds, as these are natural, high-quality protein sources.

• Trans fats can cause a series of health problems, from heart-related issues to elevated cholesterol and obesity. And they are also not good for your brain as well; they can make your brain more sluggish, affect your reflexes and the quality of your brain response, and may increase the risk of stroke!

Trans fats can also have other effects on your brain. If consumed for too long a time, they can result in a sort of brain shrinkage due to the fact that trans fats slowly damage the arteries. You can prevent this and lower the stroke risk by limiting your intake of trans fats.

• Artificial sweeteners. When people try to lose weight, they often replace sugar with artificial sweeteners. It is true that artificial sweeteners contain fewer calories, but they can actually do more harm than good. If used for an extended period of time, artificial sweeteners can cause brain damage and interfere with your cognitive capacity, especially if you use high amounts.

• Nicotine. Smoking that nicotine-filled cigarette can wreak havoc on your brain by restricting the blood flow, along with the regular flow of glucose and oxygen. Nicotine not only causes premature aging and poses an increased risk for lung cancer, but it also affects the production and the function of neurotransmitters by tightening the capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that play a pivotal role when it comes to your brain function.

Remember, we are what we eat!