Food for thought - brain health


When it comes to "food talk" between you and your mind or you and your friends or you and your training partners as well as searching for food-related information on the internet (blogs, forums, etc.), I find that much of the search for the ideal diet is centered on calories and macronutrients, good food/bad food, instead of eating to reduce risk for disease and to maintain a healthy body composition. Specifically, in a body-image-focused society, there's a large attention focused on food for changing body composition with the added pressure to look like the bodies you see on TV/internet - models, athletes, reality stars, celebrities or "professionals" featured on TV. 
Despite your knowledge of the importance of eating for health and providing your body with the essential vitamins and minerals found in a varied, balanced diet to support the immune system and reduce risk for disease later in life, it's difficult to escape this "body image" that you are comparing yourself to, perhaps what you feel is the "perfect" body to make you happy in life.

When you feel vulnerable in your current body and find yourself seeing yourself as "fat, ugly, chubby, unhealthy, bloating, disguisting" (when was the last time you called yourself these workds?  Standing on the scale, in the bathroom in front of the mirror, before/after a workout, in the kitchen, etc.) you may find yourself searching for food-related info in order to change body composition quickly, often with an "at no cost" mentality with unhealthy and extreme styles of eating (or lack thereof) - elimination diets, overexercising, fasting, juicing, cleansing, etc.

Quick fixes do not solve habitual unhealthy behaviors.
As a clinical RD and endurance athlete, I support the quest of achieving a healthy body composition to improve overall health. But "healthy" can be a range of weights for your height and can be defined differently by every individual. I, on the other hand, have seen many individuals go to great extremes in following a quick fix or fad diet to "be healthy" and I feel that with a better relationship with food and the body, health can be achieved, with a healthy body composition for a lifetime.

It was a great honor to speak at the recent Fit and Well event at Baptist Medical Center Beaches on Sunday afternoon. I preceeded a great group of medical professionals who spoke on great topics. The audience of fitness professionals (yoga instructors, personal trainers, etc.) was attentive and soaked-up the information to pass along to their clients in the Jacksonville community.

Here are a few points from my power point presentation to help you keep your brain nourished and healthy:
Brain food:

Mediterranean diet - Ideal "healthy" diet
Benefits – cognitive function and emotional well-being
Foods – Nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, whole-grains, legumes, olive oil, fish.
Brain health – lower risk of Alzheimer's, depression, dementia, cancer, diabetes

Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA, ALA)
Benefits – DHA accounts for up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain
Foods – Fatty fish (ex. tuna, salmon, mackerel and trout, krill or fish oil), soy, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, canola oil
Brain health - neurotransmitter functioning (dopamine and serotonin) for improved mood.

B vitamins (B6, B12, folate)
Benefits -  may suppress the amino acid homocysteine, improve serotonin
Foods – B12 - animal proteins, nutritional yeast, fortified foods
Folate – leafy greens, beans, soy, cottage cheese, rice, fortified foods.
Brain health - reduce risk of Alzheimer's, depression, improve memory

Benefits – regulate brain’s serotonin levels, relax blood vessels
Foods – beans (garbanzo), flaxseeds, leafy greens, potatoes, nuts, wheat germ, lentils, avocado, figs, dark chocolate
Brain health - speed the transmission of messages in the brain, prevents synapse loss, promote brain function, memory

Herbs and Spices
Benefits – Inhibit breakdown of acetylcholine, reduce inflammation, reduce destructive brain proteins (beta amyloids)
Foods – sage, curry/turmeric (curcumin), cloves, rosemary
Brain health - boost memory and stimulate the production of new brain cells, neuroprotective agent in a wide range of neurological disorders

Caffeine and chocolate
Benefits – Alertness, cognitive performance, improve mood and well-being
Food – coffee, tea, dark chocolate
Brain health – antioxidant properties
Optimal Brain Health Tips:
Eat breakfast – Emphasize protein, fat and carbohydrates
Ex. 1 cup Kefir or 1 cup greek yogurt + 1 cup mixed fruit + 1 cup fortified cereal or 1/3 cup granola + 1/2 ounce walnuts
Stabilize blood sugar – eat every few hours (no more than 4 hours without eating), emphasize real food for vitamins/minerals.
Stay hydrated - 91 ounces (~11-12 cups) for women and 125 ounces (15-16 cups) for men of fluids per day.
Variety of whole foods

Control blood sugar


Stay hydrated

Enjoy heart-healthy fats

Herbs and spices

Eat a satisfying balanced breakfast

Stress, sleep, attitude

Brain games