As you know, I am a HUGE advocate of learning to eat better foods, and I love it when I continue to learn the amazing benefits of cleaning up one's diet. It's amazing how life-changing it is, in so many ways.
Today I wanted to share some tips that I learned from one of my IIN teachers whose book I just read, focused on the power of supercharging your brain for better health.
Did you know that your brain uses 20-30% of the calories you consume? So, if you want your brain to be smarter and happier, it’s absolutely key to get your nutrition right. You can exercise all you want, even take the right supplements, but if you are eating highly processed foods filled with sugar, bad fats, excessive sodium, harmful chemicals and preservatives, then there is no way that your brain will be working at its peak.
And if our brain isn't properly nourished, this will affect our overall health, energy levels, mental clarity, focus, our emotions and even our hormones and sex life.
The Standard American Diet, which consists of a limited variety of foods, and within that, an abundance of bad fats, salt and sugar, promotes inflammation in our bodies and has been associated with ADD, depression, dementia, of course obesity, and more.
Maybe you consider your diet way better than "the standard american diet", and you've already cut down on processed foods. Maybe you've even introduced various superfoods and green juices! But MANY of us still suffer from the yo-yo effect – we're "good" most of the time, but then we occasionally crave bad foods, overeat them, then feel terrible and hate ourselves for it after the fact. It’s exhausting and bad for our bodies and most importantly, for our brains.
When you decide to really get healthier, and eat cleaner, more nutritious foods on a DAILY basis, it will affect everything in your life in a positive way, including your brain! You'll feel better about yourself, more in control of your relationship with food, and will find it easier to avoid the yo-yo dieting and negative consequences that come with it.
To get you started, I'm going to share 10 key nutrition tips that you should apply regularly in order to optimize the health of your brain:
1) Don’t overeat. Eat until you are 80-90% full, and allow your body to process the foods you have eaten. If you eat until you are 100% full, you have likely overeaten and are draining your body - and brain - of energy that is being used to digest this big meal.
2) Focus on nutrient dense foods with “high quality” calories. While calories matter, it is very important to distinguish between good and bad calories. It is very different to eat a 600 calorie donut, than a 600 calorie salad made of wild salmon, spinach, walnuts and bell peppers, dressed with olive oil and lemon. The donut will alter your hormones and lead to a blood sugar spike then drop, leaving you tired, with cravings, and frankly, less intelligent. The salmon salad will supercharge your energy and make you smarter!
3) Avoid liquid calories, and drink lots of water instead. Your brain is 80% water, and things that dehydrate it (like coffee, caffeinated sodas or alcohol) can decrease your thinking and impair your judgement. So skip the sodas, java and margaritas, and fill up on water.
4) Eat high quality lean protein at each meal. Protein helps keep your blood sugar stable and provides the necessary building blocks for brain health. Also, starting your day with protein will boost your focus and concentration. Note- this includes vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and lentils (especially sprouted), raw nuts and seeds (including grain-like seeds such as quinoa), and high protein veggies like peas, kale, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and sprouts. Protein powders can also be a good source, but be careful with ingredients- look out for added sugars and unhealthy ingredients. I suggest a vegan protein powder that is non-GMO and free of soy, gluten, diary, sugars, and artificial ingredients.
5) Eat low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates. Not all carbs are bad, but it’s important to avoid carbs that are processed and have been stripped of nutritional value (ex. refined carbs such as white bread). Instead, eat smart carbs that don’t spike your blood sugar and are high in fiber, such as many vegetables and fruits (think sweet potatoes and berries!). Fiber slows the absorption of food into the bloodstream, balancing blood sugar, and helping you avoid food cravings later in the day.
6) Eat lots of healthy fats and Omega-3’s. The solid part of your brain (after removing water) is 60% fat, so fat is essential to your health, and it’s important to eat healthy fats to nourish the brain. High cholesterol can increase your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, so it’s important to eat healthy fats that lower your bad cholesterol and raise the level of your good cholesterol, such as avocados, flax seeds and chia seeds.
7) Eat a wide variety of foods of different colors. Eating foods of all colors - green (leafy greens), blue (blueverries), red (ex. red peppers), yellow (ex. yellow squash), orange (ex. carrots & butternut squash)- will boost your anti-oxidant levels, and help keep your brain young.
8) Cook with herbs and spices that boost brain health. There are many spices that help keep your brain functioning optimally, such as turmeric (decrease plaques that lead to alzheimer’s), saffron (anti-depressant qualities), rosemary, thyme and sage (help boost memory), cinnamon (aphrodisiac), garlic and oregano (increase blood flow to brain), and ginger, cayenne & black pepper (boost metabolism and have aphrodisiac effect).
9) Eat as “clean” as possible, avoiding pesticide & other chemical residues. Pesticides used in commercial farming can accumulate in your brain and body, so aim for buying organic especially when it comes to the foods that have the highest level of pesticide residue (check out EWG's Dirty Dozen list). Also, eat meat that is free of hormones and antibiotics, grass-fed and free-range. Lastly, fish is a great food for the brain, but beware of toxicity levels in some fish; aim for lower mercury fish (usually smaller fish are safer).
10) Avoid foods that cause inflammation– such as gluten, dairy, and (in some cases) soy – especially if you have trouble with your mood, memory, skin, blood pressure or blood sugar. Many people have moderate food sensitivities to these foods, which are unknowingly leading to mood swings, IBS, eczema, and more. Also, it's been shown that people with autism and ADHD often do better when they eliminate gluten, dairy and processed foods.
So if you want your brain to be functioning optimally, the best thing you can do is start cutting out the bad quality foods, and follow these 10 tips to feel better, and smarter! Not only will you save money on medical bills, but your energy, mental concentration and productivity will go up!
Love and Brain Health,