Keeping Your Brain Sharp for Life
Your brain is not destined to get fuzzy. 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a finite number, which over time wither, dwindle, and die – leading to memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s – is outdated and just plain wrong. Scientists now recognize that the brain is amazingly resilient and “plastic,” which means it has the ability to tweak its structure and function.
The brain is only as good as what you feed it. Diet is the only place your brain gets the building blocks to build healthy nerve cells. Make stupid lifestyle choices, such as eating a high-saturated fat diet, sitting like a lump on the couch, smoking, or 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. One study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that people who did not take care of their minds in their 20s through 50s were three times more likely to develop Alzheimers in their 60s and 70s. Or, get smart and follow the SE xY Diet guidelines, 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 an astonishing improvement in mind, memory, and mood both today and down the road. In fact, seniors who eat right, move more, and live well react and problem solve just as quickly as people who are decades younger
One diet “must do” for optimal brain health is to load the plate with antioxidants. The culprit here is oxygen. While oxygen is the most important nutrient for life, it also has a dark side. Oxygen fragments, called oxidants or free radicals, are part of the air we breath. They also are in fried foods, air pollution, tobacco smoke, and sunlight, and are generated in the body during normal metabolism.
These oxidants are like street gangs attacking unsuspecting cells, cell membranes, and even the genetic code within cells. Left uncheck, each cell in our body is attacked about one thousand times a day. As cells are damaged or killed, the accumulating debris clogs tissues, while organs begin to breakdown. Oxidative damage is a major underlying cause of all age-related diseases, from cancer to dementia and Alzheimers. It also initiates inflammation. The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage. It accounts for only 2% of ideal body weight, but consumes between 20% and 25% of the oxygen we inhale. Consequently, it generates more oxidants per gram of tissue than any other organ in the body.
Luckily, the right diet is packed with anti-free radicals or antioxidants. You’ll find almost one million of them in colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, red wine, dark chocolate, whole grains, and other plants. Aim for 9 servings a day of colorful produce and you will dramatically reduce your risk for dementia. That’s as easy as a big bowl of watermelon along with your whole grain cereal and milk in the morning, an orange for a mid-morning snack, a big spinach salad at lunch, a small bag of baby carrots mid-day, a cup of green peas or broccoli at dinner, and a handful of blueberries on your frozen yogurt in the evening.
Just Do This Today
Chomp on a carrot. A carrot a day could slash stroke risk by 68%, according to a study from Harvard on almost 90,000 female nurses who ate carrots at least fives times a week. Carotenes in carrots and other orangey veggies also lower cancer and heart attack risks. Go for the carrot, not a beta carotene supplement, since it’s the mixture of carotenes, plus the fiber and other nutrients in the carrot that makes for the best healthy snack. Other options: Munch on baby carrots, add grated carrots to a salad or burrito, or add frozen carrots to canned soups.
Hot Off the Press – News for Your Mind, Memory, and Brain
1. DHA Concussion Connection: A serious bump on the head in childhood could predispose a child to lowered intellectual function later in life, according to a study from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Children are thought to be resilient to traumatic head injuries, but in this study the researchers found that early traumas to the head affected cognitive function, IQ, and even behavior. Children’s recovery can take years, and the researchers found that “…they are generally slower to learn concepts, and some high-level skills are often too difficult for them.”
The good news is that a study last year from West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown found that dietary supplementation with the omega-3 fat DHA given prior to a traumatic head injury, reduces the injury response and helps prevent later cognitive problems. The dose used in that study was 40 milligrams of DHA/kilogram body weight given for at least 30 days prior to injury.
In Perspective: Since the omega-3s are critical for brain development and the prevention of heart disease, it seems wise to give children who do not eat fatty fish on a weekly basis a supplement of this fat as a prophylactic. http://1.usa.gov/y1queG and http://1.usa.gov/AqHP7u
2. Brain Nutrients: People who maintain high blood levels of omega-3s and certain vitamins perform better on tests for thinking ability and have larger brain volume, state researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. More than 30 nutrients were measured in the blood of 104 people with an average age of 87-years. The subjects were well-educated, healthy, nonsmokers with few health problems and no serious signs of memory or thinking impairment. MRI scans were conducted on 42 of the subjects to measure brain volume, since some amount of brain atrophy or shrinkage is common with age. Results showed that some nutrients were beneficial for certain aspects of cognition. People with high levels of vitamins B, C, D, and E performed better on tests of executive function and attention, and had improved visuospatial skills and global cognitive function. They also had larger brains. High levels of the omega-3s, especially, EPA and DHA found in fatty seafood, were linked to better executive function, such as improved planning, attention, and problem solving, and with fewer changes in the white matter of the brain. http://1.usa.gov/zFP6Sy
3. Compulsive About B12: A deficiency of vitamin B12 can manifest in a variety of ways. Since this vitamin is critical in the formation of the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells, low intake of B12 can result in slowed thinking and even dementia. Vitamin B12 is also important in the manufacture of red blood cells and a deficiency results in anemia. Other signs of deficiency include myelopathy, neuropathy, mood disorders, chronic fatigue, and psychosis even without classical red blood cell abnormalities like anemia. Researchers at Kailash Hospital in India report a case of a middle-aged man presenting with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), low blood vitamin B12 levels, and a positive family history of vitamin B12 deficiency who responded well to B12 supplementation. http://1.usa.gov/xTmIIL
Food & Mood Tip
Foods that are flavor-full and that smell yummy also are most satisfying. People report that they feel more full and satisfied on less food when they eat flavorful meals rather than bland diets. The more flavorful a meal, the more satisfying it is. In studies from the University of Maryland, people were more satisfied and less hungry when they ate savory meals, while at Duke University, people were most successful at dieting and weight loss when they ate flavor-packed foods. With this in mind, add garlic, ginger, chili powder, red pepper flakes, herbs, and spices to your foods, rather than just grabbing the salt shaker.
Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week
Whole grains are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. But it’s more than just about what they have, it’s also about what they don’t do. Fiber-rich whole grains fill you up on fewer calories, so you don’t stuff yourself to the point of being comatose. No wonder study after study has found that people who eat the most whole grains don’t gain weight, don’t develop diabetes and heart disease, and don’t need to worry as much about high blood pressure or even cancer. Combine whole grains with a calorie-controlled diet and studies show you boost brain power and lower inflammatory factors, so you don’t suffer from everything from dementia to heart disease. Scarf down refined grains and you get just the opposite: weight gain, bad moods, and higher risks for disease.
How come whole grains help with weight loss, but refined grains cause weight gain? Fiber fills us up, so we eat less. Also, most truly 100% whole grains are lower in fat and sugar, so they have fewer calories. In contrast, without the added fiber, refined grains don’t fill us up. We eat too much, then feel stuffed and sluggish.
This week, focus on choosing only 100% whole grains, such as brown rice, old fashioned oats, 100% whole wheat bread, and 100% whole-grain tortillas.
Remember Your Brain/Body Connection!
When you keep your brain well tuned with smart food choices, there are sexy benefits too. On 7 Live in San Francisco I discuss the care and feeding of our sexiest body part: our brain!
Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week
Minted Lamb Pockets with Honey Yogurt Dressing
Serve with steamed vegetables, a big salad, and brown rice.
1 /2 pound ground lamb
1 /2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
1 /2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 /2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 whole wheat pita breads, sliced in half
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1) In a non-stick skillet, over medium-high heat, cook lamb for 5 minutes, or until no longer pink, stirring frequently to break into small pieces. Drain lamb and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
2) In same skillet, add onion and saute until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add apple and saute for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Place in bowl with lamb.
3) Add remaining ingredients, except pita bread, to lamb mixture. Mix well.
4) In a small bowl, mix yogurt and honey. Set aside.
5) Spoon lamb mixture into pita pockets. Dollop with honey yogurt dressing. Makes 6 pocket sandwiches.
Nutritional Analysis per pocket sandwich: 196 Calories; 37% fat (8 grams); 3 grams saturated fat; 23% protein; 40% carbohydrate; 2.4 grams fiber.
Answers to “Do You Know?” from the Last Issue:
How much whole grain a slice of bread has that is made with “wheat flour?”
The term “wheat flour” is deceiving, since it implies whole wheat, when in fact it is white, refined flour. If you see “wheat flour” or “enriched flour” on an ingredient list, especially if it is in the first two ingredients, the product is predominately processed flour.
Which is better, Tang or 100% juice made with concentrated pear, apple, or white grape juice?
They are both about the same. Concentrated pear, apple, and/or white grape juice refers to a highly processed liquid that has been extracted to concentrate primarily only the sugar from the fruit. Using these substitutes for sugar water or high fructose corn syrup allows a food manufacturer to say their product is 100% juice, when in fact it is a nutritionally poor substitute for tomato juice, orange juice, or any other juice made from 100% unprocessed fruit.
Do You Know?
What does 10% fat mean on a label of hamburger meat?
Is the percentage of fat calories in low-fat milk 2%?
Check the next issue for the answers….
Want to know if you live in a state that values healthy brains, good memories, and smart thinking? Go to http://www.beautiful-minds.com/AmericasBrainHealthIndex/
The Daily Menu
Put know-how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the afternoon snack and baked apple if you want to cut an additional 250+ calories.
Breakfast Smoothie made with:
1 /2 cup nonfat, plain yogurt
2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
1/4 cup apricots, canned in juice or light syrup and drained
Minted Lamb Pockets with Honey Yogurt Dressing
3/4 cup cooked instant brown rice
1 cup lightly-steamed broccoli dunked in 1 tablespoon low-calorie Ranch dressing
Dinner and Dessert
3 ounces grilled halibut topped with lemon juice and basil leaves
1 baked sweet potato topped with 1 tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
2 cups steamed green peas
Spinach Salad made with:
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon craisins
1 tablespoon low-calorie Italian dressing
1 baked apple w/ cinnamon and brown sugar
Nutritional Analysis for the day: 2,070 Calories; 25% fat (57.5 grams); 12 gram saturated fat; 21% protein; 54% carbohydrate; 44 grams fiber.