There is a very good reason why your diet becomes your mind and mood. The more than 100 billion cells in your brain are surrounded by a coating, called a membrane, that is made up of fats from the diet. Eat the right fats and those membranes are fluid and flexible, able to relay with ease messages from one brain cell to another. The brain cell receptors also run in tip top condition. You think fast, remember well, and have high levels of the feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, in the brain. On the other hand, eat the wrong fats and those brain cell membranes are rigid, inflexible, and less able to send messages. The receptors crumble, and as a result, you are moody, depressed, and don’t think clearly. Down the road, you are at high risk for dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. Those fatty brain cell membranes are protected from damaged by the almost one million phytonutrients in foods, too. What you eat also influences the ebb and flow of brain chemicals. Neurotransmitters – from serotonin, neuropeptide Y (NPY), and galanin to acetylcholine, the endorphins, and more – regulate everything from emotions, moods, and memories to your likes and dislikes, opinions, and sense of humor. All of those mood-regulating chemicals are made from components in your diet, and many also are turned on or off by what you chose to eat.
Your brain is not destined to get fuzzy. Even if there is a history of dementia in your family, that has very little to do with you. Genetics is only part of the equation; 66% of how smart you are and will be in the future has to do with how you choose to take care of yourself yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The belief that brain cells can’t regenerate, that there is a finite number, which over time wither, dwindle, and die – leading to memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s – is outdated and just plain wrong.
Of course, the brain is only as good as what you feed it. Make stupid lifestyle choices, such as eating a high-saturated fat diet, sitting like a lump on the couch, smoking, and refusing to learn new things as you age, and you are asking for a dramatic decline in brain cell numbers and their connections, which means fewer cells to store memory and fewer connections between cells to retrieve them. That increases your chances for dementia and Alzheimer’s 16-fold.
Or, get smart and eat really well, exercise daily, and adopt a few memory-boosting habits, and you literally increase the size of your brain, the number of neurons, and the amount of connections between nerve cells. That equates to a serious improvement in mind, memory, and mood both today and down the road, which gives you more years of feeling great! In short, the problem is not so much that the mind fails, but that we fail to keep our minds engaged and nourished.
Many tests promise to evaluate your antioxidant status. They might take urine, skin, or blood samples to measure by-products of free radical metabolism. However, assessing antioxidant status is not that simple and never gives you the whole picture of what’s going on in your body. For example, one test uses a scanner that shines a laser through your finger. It only measures a handful of carotenoids, not the entire gamut of the tens of thousands of antioxidants in the colorful fruits, vegetables, and other real food you eat. There’s also a catch – the company that markets the scanner also sells supplements specifically designed to raise blood levels of the few carotenoids they are testing (surprise!). In reality, the only way to be guaranteed your antioxidant arsenal is stocked is to eat a real foods diet
Want to know my biggest diet pet peeve? When people explain why I am lean by saying I was born with good genes. As anyone over the age of 30 who is fit knows, it takes constant work to stay fit and lean in our culture! What do nutrition pros do to stay fit? First off, the big difference between those who keep the weight off and those who don’t is that the “pros” stop drawing the arbitrary distinction between dieting and their normal lives. You must be willing to revise your life for good, adopting weight-loss strategies you can live with forever. If all you want is to lose weight fast, then go back to your old ways, then forget it.
But what are those strategies? Permanent weight management is not just a matter of eating less. If you’re serious about reaching and sustaining a realistic weight, then Commitment becomes your middle name. The ‘pros” also plan everything. There’s a saying that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” No where does that apply more than with weight management. Fit folks have learned how to set realistic expectations and limits on themselves. They pay attention and self monitor. They even have a plan for when you slip off your plans. They also are honest about what and how much they eat and exercise. The most important predictor of whether or not you will succeed at permanent weight loss is physical activity. Successful losers are very active, expending about 2,800 calories a week in physical activity, which is the equivalent of walking four miles every day. They also watch their intakes of calories and fat. Calories are the main focus, with fat being important only because it is a concentrated source of calories. Fit folks are confronted with the same high-risk situations as their diet- challenged cohorts. The difference is diet failures fall victim to the situation, while diet successes control these situations by creative problem solving.
A few of my tricks include:
1. Make exercise fun. Listen to books on tape, walk the dog, read a book on the exercycle, vary your workouts with the season,
2. Eat two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal and one at every snack. You’ll meet your daily quota of 5 to 9 servings, feel full, and automatically cut back on fat and calories.
3. Turn off the tube. Hours of television watching are directly proportional to weight gain. Go for an after-dinner walk, ride the exercise bike, do laundry, or paint the living room instead.
4. Challenge yourself. If you’re comfortable walking at a moderate pace, go up a short hill during your next walk or pick up the pace.
5. Eat less. Cut your typical portions of everything except vegetables and fruit by one-quarter.
16. Hang out with exercisers.
I honestly don’t think you can get to healthy without at least one, preferably two, servings of dark green leafies every day. While our intake of dark green leafies, such as spinach, kale, chard, and collards, has increased by 50% since the 1970s, we still average less than 0.2 servings daily or about one bite. You should get at least one cup raw or half cup cooked of ark green leafies every day. Packed with vitamins and minerals, that serving supplies an entire day’s requirement for vitamin A, more than 3 milligrams of iron, almost a third of your daily need for folic acid, and hefty amounts of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins, all for about 20 calories. Spinach and other greens also are excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that lowers risk for cataracts and macular degeneration, the two leading causes of blindness. Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants and they act as a blue-light filter in the eye, blocking this sensitive tissue from the sun’s UV rays. Iceberg or head lettuce doesn’t count. You have to go green, really green, to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. Use them in salads, add to sandwiches, add chopped spinach to soups, steam and blend with mashed potatoes… the options are endless.