By Michelle Schoffro
Let’s get to work building a strong and healthy brain that is resilient against brain diseases, memory loss, and cognitive impairment. Even if you’ve already started experiencing a serious brain disease, you can benefit from following these principles of improved brain health.
To build a sensational brain, you need to eat a diet that is high in brain-building nutrients, including amino acids found in protein, healthy sugars found in healthy complex carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids found in healthy fats, as well as a mix of vitamins and minerals. When you eat a healthy, brain-building diet, your body will break down the foods into these components, which act as the building blocks of a healthy brain.
As you’ve already learned, red meat and dairy products contain saturated fats that tend to increase blood cholesterol levels and encourage your body’s production of beta-amyloid plaques in your brain, increasing your risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Eat no more than one serving of meat or dairy products (1/2 cup of dairy or 6 ounces of meat) no more than five times weekly. On the days you avoid red meat, you can eat up to 6 ounces of lean poultry or fish. Ideally, you should be having a couple of vegetarian days a week, as well. Some people already occasionally have “meatless Mondays,” and if you’re among them, you’re halfway there.
While meat and poultry are fine in small amounts, most people eat far too much of these foods, and that contributes to excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, and worse, excessive amounts of saturated fats that break down into inflammatory arachidonic acid.
Some foods that are high in digestible and highly usable protein include avocados, legumes such as lentils or kidney beans, nuts, nut butters, almond milk, soy milk, tofu, bean sprouts, and alfalfa sprouts. Also, when bean sprouts are eaten raw, they are loaded with highly absorbable protein thanks to enzymes they contain that allow for quick-and-easy digestion.
Your body breaks down healthy carbs into the natural sugars that your brain needs for its energy supply. I can almost hear some readers justifying their sugar addictions with that statement. However, your body has specific sugar needs. Refined or concentrated sugars, such as those found in sodas, ice cream, cakes, cookies, or other sugary foods, provide a quick sugar rush that just as quickly causes blood sugar levels to plummet. That kind of sugar roller coaster is detrimental to your brain health, not to mention your immune system.
Instead, your brain requires sustained energy from healthy carbs such as fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Legumes are high in both protein and carbs, making them an excellent food choice for brain health.
Better sources of gluten-free whole grains and carbohydrates include brown rice, wild rice, black rice, almond flour, tapioca flour, amaranth, arrowroot, and quinoa. Brown rice is more nutritious and a better option than white rice. It offers vitamin E and is high in fiber. Quinoa, a staple of the ancient Incas who revered it as sacred, is not a true grain, but rather a seed. It is a complete protein and is high in iron, B vitamins, and fiber. Amaranth is an ancient grain that is packed with important nutrients and devoid of gluten.
A recent study in the journal Biological Psychiatry found that gluten sensitivity and celiac disease may be linked to schizophrenia and psychosis. Scientists at the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine studied 471 people, including 129 with recently developed psychosis, 191 with mild schizophrenia, and 151 with neither condition to act as controls for the experiment.
The scientists measured levels of various types of antibodies to determine whether people with either schizophrenia or psychosis had any greater sensitivity to gluten than people without mental illness. Less than 1% of those with mental illness showed signs of celiac disease—a disease characterized by an inability to digest gluten and many resulting disabling symptoms. However, a significant number of people with schizophrenia and psychosis had high levels of antibodies to gluten.
The people with mental illness exhibited many of the same symptoms as people with celiac disease, but they had a different immune response. Those with mental illness also differed substantially in their reactions to gluten compared to the control group without mental illness. This study suggests that an abnormal immune response to gluten may be involved with these forms of mental illness. Of course, further research is needed, but this study gives people an important dietary factor to consider when dealing with mental illness.
Be sure to eat at least three meals daily with healthy snacks in between to help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Blood sugar is the fuel your brain requires for optimal performance. And it needs a slow and steady supply, which is the exact opposite of the way most people eat: skipping meals, lots of sugar or sweets at certain times of day, and lots of sugar highs and crashes. The best part of eating three meals and a couple of snacks every day is that you don’t have to count calories, grams of protein, or other information.
Completely avoid all products that contain trans fats or hydrogenated fats. Stanford-trained research scientist J. Robert Hatherill, PhD, found that diets containing trans fats make brain cell membranes excessively permeable, allowing viruses greater access to the brain, disrupting brain signals, causing brain cells to become dysfunctional, and promoting cognitive decline. As if that wasn’t bad enough, trans fats also incorporate themselves into the myelin sheath—the protective coating of nerves and brain cells. This changes the electrical conductivity of nerve and brain cells, thereby negatively affecting the body’s communications. Trans fats have also been shown to increase the risk of stroke (and heart disease, too).
Vegetables should make up the bulk of it. Sorry, white potatoes don’t count. Try to incorporate a wide variety of different vegetables and fruits, such as squash, leafy greens, peppers, cabbage, onions, sweet potatoes, apples, pomegranates, cherries, and blueberries. Get at least five servings of vegetables daily.
One serving equals approximately ½ cup of each vegetable. Get at least two servings of fruit daily. One serving of fruit equals approximately ½ cup of each fruit, or one fruit with a pit. Be sure to include at least three of the essential brain-boosting foods each day. They include blueberries, grapes, pomegranates, tomatoes, walnuts, and wild salmon.
While many of the best brain boosters are fruits and vegetables, other foods belong on this list as well, as you can see from the inclusion of walnuts and wild salmon. Additionally, choose at least two of the other great brain boosters each day. They include apricots, peaches, plums, celery and celery seeds, cherries, coffee, ginger, kidney beans, sage, rosemary, and tea.
That means no canola, vegetable oil, shortening, margarine, etc. While coconut oil contains saturated fats, a growing body of research shows that these saturated facts act differently in your body than saturated fats from animal products, such as meat and dairy.
You can choose whichever kind you like best: chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, peas, etc. Only count legumes in which the fiber is still intact—whole beans. That means soy milk and tofu don’t count, because the fiber has been removed from these foods. Of course, you can still eat these foods, just don’t count them toward your daily legume intake.
Choose only stevia or whole food sweeteners (raisins, dates, applesauce, etc.) to sweeten recipes. Keep sugars of all kinds to a minimum. Splenda is also known as sucralose, and while it is advertised as a natural sweetener, it isn’t. According to Joseph Mercola, DO, it “has been altered to the point that it’s actually closer to DDT and Agent Orange than to sugar.” Aspartame also goes by the names AminoSweet and Neotame and has been linked to brain cancer. Saccharin, a coal tar derivative, is also known as Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin, and Necta Sweet and is considered a “probable carcinogen.”
Cut back on sweets of all kinds: cookies, cakes, pastries, etc. If you crave something sweet, opt for fruit. If you experience depression or another mental illness, do your best to avoid concentrated sugars altogether. Fruit is fine in moderation.
Instead of iodized salt, choose unrefined or Celtic sea salt. Iodized salt is sodium with iodine added, while unrefined sea salt naturally contains sodium along with many other valuable minerals, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. While salt is never a great source of these types of minerals, unrefined or Celtic sea salt also has many trace minerals that, as their name suggests, your body needs in trace amounts. Iodized salt has none of these trace minerals. Therefore, it is best to choose unrefined sea salt that naturally contains many different minerals, not just sodium and iodine.
Brisk walking, running, hiking, cycling, inline skating, or any other brisk activity is fine. Exercise is critical to ensure that healthy, oxygen-rich blood is delivered in adequate quantities to your brain. A total loss of oxygen for 6 minutes can result in permanent damage to your brain, and 7 minutes can result in death. Because you obtain oxygen through breathing, simply breathing shallowly or not getting sufficient exercise can reduce the amount of oxygen-rich blood that pumps to your brain. By exercising regularly, you’ll boost that supply.
It should be free of iron, copper, sugar, additives, colors, and artificial sweeteners. Consume iron supplements only if your physician has instructed you to do so. Make sure your multivitamin contains at least 50 grams of B-complex vitamins and 50 micrograms of folate and B12. Studies link a vitamin B12 deficiency to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and depression. Research also shows that simply getting more B vitamins (such as from a multiple plus extra vitamin B12) can halve the rate of brain shrinkage associated with aging.
Incorporate these 12 brain-boosting tricks that’ll help you improve your memory in just one minutes.