A few years ago, I used to be a wheat-loving gal. I pretty much sustained myself on it – most mornings I would have a high fiber cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat for lunch, pretzels for a snack, and quite often pasta for dinner.
After years of trying to figure out what was causing my laundry list of health complaints (joint & muscle aches, foggy brain, thyroid issues, fatigue, general puffiness, etc), I finally found significant relief by giving up gluten and wheat, and increasing my intake of inflammation-lowering omega 3s. Although the transition was not easy initially (what change is easy??)…now, I can’t imagine eating that way anymore! Instead of cereal I usually start my day with a superfood smoothie with energy and mood-boosting chia seeds, I have salads or soups instead of sandwiches, and zucchini pasta in place of regular pasta.
But I will admit, there are a few things that I do miss…and I know this might sound like a weird thing to be longing for, but I used to love me a good raisin bran muffin! And for some odd reason, this morning, I had a hankering for one!
When I realized that I had a bag of ground flax in the fridge, some organic eggs, virgin coconut oil and coconut palm sugar – I decided to see if I could whip something up that resembled my beloved bran muffin. And guess what? They turned out great*, I’d say better than regular bran muffins!! And best of all – because these are made with flax – they are inflammation-lowering and high in brain and mood boosting omega 3s!
Raisin “Bran” Muffins – made with flax (free of wheat, gluten & grains)
*Boy, do I love it when my kitchen experiments come out great the first time (because let me tell you – I have had more than my share of missteps – especially when it comes to baked goods)!!
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous? Like there are butterflies in your stomach? Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake? Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss. It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.
But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?
Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?” The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?” It is all about the second brain.
Our Second Brain
Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.
Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine. So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.
Digestive Issues Very Common
The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints. They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.
Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.
Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:
Heal the root cause, the gut:
Get some relief from the symptoms:
Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances. It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.
The Gut & the Immune System
The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system. One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).
This is a very in-depth topic. If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:
Our gut is the foundation of our health. As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.
The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you. Premium fuel today?” Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon! I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time. It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.
That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition. Athletes are kind of like high performance cars. Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance. Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings. The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.
Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves. But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should. Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.
Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).
One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods. Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.
At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.
15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:
Usually if something sounds too good to be true – it is. Except in this case!!
This superfood version of chocolate mousse is dairy free and 100% guilt free!! It is also rich in fiber, omega 3s, magnesium, has no sugar and whips up in minutes! I know, hard to believe – but all true! It is a rich and creamy delicious chocolatty delight!! And unlike other chocolate mousses, this one will not spike your bloodsugar. It will fill you up, and keep your hunger hormones in control and keep you satisfied for hours!
* The ice cubes are primarily to chill the mousse, you can omit if you are making it and not eating it right away. Put into the refrigerator to chill.
Note – this recipe requires a Vitamix blender that has a “tamper” – the tool that helps to process thicker recipes, stirring ingredients and removing air pockets in the blender.
Put into a container in the refrigerator, or pour into a dish and enjoy. This can make 1 large serving, or two small ones.
This is a Perfect Metabolism program recipe!
Read Cuckoo for Coconut oil to learn more about the health benefits of coconut oil.
To me, it is just not Fall until I get my first taste of pumpkin. But sometimes I just crave that pumpkin taste, and I don’t have the time to bake muffins or bread. And just say no to those pumpkin spice lattes – they have almost 50 grams of sugar!
Enter the Pumpkin Cacao Chip Superfood Smoothie!!
This delicious smoothie literally tastes like a pumpkin pie in a glass…but unlike pumpkin pie – you will not need to lay on the couch and unbutton the pants and take a nap after eating it, this smoothie has chia seeds to provide lasting energy, and improve focus, attention, and mood – it is one of the favorites from my Perfect Metabolism program.
Download Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods eBook for some more delicious and nutritious recipes!
There are some very common misconceptions about what foods and substances really are healthy for our hearts. Here are five heart health myths…busted!
1. Myth: fat free diets are heart healthy:
In the past couple of decades, if you were diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor probably put you on a “heart healthy” low fat diet. But new evidence is revealing this could possibly be the worst possible diet for our hearts! Research from respected institutions like Harvard show that low fat diets may actually raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes (read more here).
Low fat foods make us hungry! Getting enough of the right kind of dietary fat is critical for controlling our hunger hormones – so if you are not getting enough healthy fats in your diet – you are likely going to be hungry all of the time, which can lead to overeating and weight gain, which as we all know, is bad for our hearts. Healthy fats also help to keep our bloodsugar in balance, which is important because blood sugar spikes over a period of time can lead to a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it more difficult to lose weight, and can lead to pre-diabetes, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease. Also, post-meal glucose spikes are very dangerous for our hearts (read more). In addition to the 26 million Americans with diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than a third of the general population is now pre-diabetic. Knowing your blood sugar levels is very important, as high blood sugar is quickly becoming one of the leading preventable causes of sudden death in the United States.
A multi-billion dollar industry was born from the erroneous concept that fats are bad for us, and for over a decade, consumers dutifully have bought low and reduced fat foods at the grocery store thinking that they were doing a good thing for their health. But many low fat foods are significantly worse for us than the regular ones. Take Reduced Fat Peanut butter for example. The company website claims that it only contains 60% peanuts – like that is a good thing. But if I am buying peanut butter – I want there to be peanuts in there, we have to ask ourselves, what comprises the other 40% in the jar? if you read the label, you will find out what makes up the other 40% is not good for our hearts or any part of our bodies – corn syrup solids, sugar, soy protein, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. So instead of the healthier fats from the actual real peanuts, we are getting “fake fats,” added sugars, genetically modified soy, and GMO corn syrup solids. So I can say without a doubt – that all “reduced fat” foods are not healthier for you. I recommend buying a natural peanut butter, or even better – upgrade to a product like NuttZo – which is a blend of 7 different nuts and seeds, and is a good source of heart protective omega 3 fatty acids. NuttZo contains no added sugar or anything else we don’t need in nut butters.
What do we want to avoid like the plague? Sugar. A study found that drinking just 1 sweetened beverage a day was associated with a 20% increase in heart disease in men (read more).
2. Myth: Saturated fat is bad for your heart.
So what kind of fat is good for us, and which kind is bad? For years we have been taught that saturated fats are bad, and polyunsaturated fats are good for us. Again, this is completely wrong!! I tell all of my clients to get rid of the margarine, corn oils, soy oil, and vegetable oils. So many of us have been dutifully buying margarine in the stores – because we thought it was healthier for us than butter. This is completely false. The benefits that saturated fats offer, are they are more stable, so they are less likely to become damaged, or oxidized – and it is the oxidized or damaged fats/cholesterol that is dangerous, causing the free radicals that leads to disease.
Some saturated fats are actually recommended and have been shown to greatly benefit the heart – like coconut oil. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids, which are more quickly and easily converted into energy – so they are less likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oils are also rich in lauric acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol, lower our risk of cancer, and benefit the heart. In fact, research shows that these are better for your heart than margarine and polyunsaturated oils. Read: Saturated Fats Are Good for You to learn more about how saturated fats can be better for our heart health. Another saturated fat that is also a good choice is organic or grass fed butter. I always recommend choosing organic or free range for ALL animal proteins – as they are higher in omega 3s (reduces inflammation – important for our hearts and overall health), will not contain antibiotics (80% of the U.S. antibiotics are fed to livestock), and reduce inflammation.
The other issue with margarine, is that it contains a hefty serving of trans fats – largely a man-made fat – the worst kind of fat. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, making the oil more solid and less likely to spoil. This process is called hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation and allows stick margarine to be firm at room temperature. Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol, and they tend to lower the HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also may make our blood platelets stickier, which is a definite bad situation for our heart health. Just one tablespoon of stick margarine can pack a whopping 3 grams of trans fat. So pitch out the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and buy some good ‘ole real butter again (but make sure to choose organic or grass fed).
3. Myth: Eggs raise your cholesterol and so we should avoid them. Many people believe that eggs, and foods with cholesterol raises blood cholesterol and heart disease risk. But half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol (read article). Don’t worry about dietary cholesterol – eat your eggs! According to research out of Harvard, eggs – even though they contain cholesterol do not raise blood cholesterol for 60% of the population. For the other 30% for whom eggs did raise blood cholesterol, it raised both the LDL and HDL (it did not change the ratio – most important) and at the same time it reduced the oxidation of the LDL cholesterol – oxidation is the reason why LDL is bad for us. But buy organic eggs – they are higher in omega 3 fatty acids and so they are better for our health & our hearts.
In fact, there is a considerable amount of research to show that high cholesterol is NOT an accurate predictor of heart health. Read the book The Great Cholesterol Myth, Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease, written by Dr. Steven Sinatra (a heart surgeon with over 25 years of experience), and Dr. Johnny Bowden, the “Rogue Nutritionist.” The Great Cholesterol Myth says the real culprits of heart disease are:
Lastly, we need to understand that cholesterol is a very important hormone. It is the mother of all hormones – and without sufficient cholesterol, our body can’t effectively manufacture all the other hormones, which can lead to low testosterone levels in men, among other things. It also has been linked to increased rates of Alzhemiers and dementia – because our brain needs cholesterol for proper brain cell function.
4. Myth: Foods Labeled “Trans-Fat Free” are heart healthy:
There is one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on – that trans fats are the worst kind of fats we can eat for our hearts and our overall health. So we want to avoid eating any foods that contain even trace amounts of trans fats. But – just because the label says “trans fat free,” does not mean that it contains ZERO trans fats!! As long as a food has less than .5 trans fats per serving, it can say trans fats free, but it still can contain trans fats. And because trans fats prolong the shelf life of packaged foods, they are found in lots of packaged and processed good – like cookies and cakes. These are the kind of foods that we tend to eat multiple servings of – so even if they only contain trace amounts of trans fats, those can add up very quickly. Plus, any food that has a label on it – is probably processed. So the less foods you eat with labels and marketing claims, the better for your heart health. But we are all busy, so we will occasionally want to eat something from a package, so it is important to learn how to find Trans Fats on labels (hint – most margarines, certain vegetable oils and many packaged/ processed foods contain them). Just know, the less packaged and processed our diets are – the better for our overall health.
5. Myth: Heart Disease only affects the middle aged.
Diseases that we once considered to only hit in middle age, are starting to show up in kids. Once called “adult-onset” diabetes, it is now referred to as Type 2 diabetes – because it is appearing long before adulthood now. New research shows that heart damage is beginning very early in life. And because of poor lifestyle and diet choices – the disease can accelerate quickly. Teenagers are increasingly showing evidence of heart disease and even having heart attacks. Developing good lifestyle choices should begin as early as possible – waiting until middle age to think about our heart health might end up to be too late. One of the key foods to encourage kids to limit is sugar – especially sugary drinks like sodas. Drinking just 1 sugar sweetened soda per day was shown to raise a man’s risk of heart attack by over 30%. Eating too many sweets or even carbs/grains causes spikes in bloodsugar – leading to a condition called insulin resistance – read this study. Another food group to not overconsume is simple carbs – foods like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Wonder Bread and other simple carbs are very quickly converted to the body into sugars, and they offer no nutritional value, and create inflammation in the body – a key marker for heart disease and many other diseases.
The best predictor for future heart disease in children is their waist circumference, read this article for more info. Having belly fat is an indication that there could be fat forming around the organs, and this fat is far more dangerous for the heart than any other type of fat. This New York Times article tells us how we can prevent heart disease in our children.
Chia seeds are a superfood – they are high in omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, and many other nutrients. They are also high in a very unique fiber – that is hydrophillic – meaning it soaks up a lot of liquid, creating a gel. This gel helps to keep us hydrated, give us energy, and slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Great for athletes, and anyone looking to boost their energy, endurance, and overall health. Chia seeds make a delicious, nutritious and easy to make – pudding!
*If you would like to serve it warm, warm up milk in a saucepan, stir in chia seeds, take off heat and and allow to sit and soak up milk for 3-5 mins. Top with cinnamon and nuts or hemp seeds – serve.
Great for breakfast, a snack or dessert!
Make ahead idea:
Put all the ingredients in a glass container before bed, give it a stir, cover and put into refrigerator. Ready in the morning for breakfast or to take to work for a snack.
As a family, we stopped drinking cow’s milk over a year ago, for a number of reasons:
After quite a bit of resistance initially from the kids, and trying out a number of alternative milks, we settled on our choices:
But recently, we have been reading about the negative health implications of carrageenan – which is added to many alternative milks to keep the ingredients from separating, and also to give it a good “mouth feel.” According to Rodale, carrageenan wreaks havoc on our gut health, and could even be a potential carcinogen. According to Ayurvedic medicine, if our digestion is not healthy, then we are not healthy. Although rice milk generally does not contain carrageenen, the news about arsenic in rice had us rethinking giving our kids rice milk too.
Frustrated, yesterday my hubby said, “maybe we should go back to organic cows milk.” I thought about it for a second, but I decided that I had a better solution – homemade cashew milk, and this recipe is unlike any other cashew milk because it is high in calcium and omega 3s!
THE BEST ALTERNATIVE MILK:
Cashew milk is the easiest nut milk to make because it does not require straining. It is very delicious and energizing – give it a try!! Cashews are naturally high heart protective healthy monounsaturated fats, zinc, protein, copper, manganese, vitamin K, and magnesium (which over 70% of the population is deficient, key for bone health).
It’s Back to School time again. That means it is time to ditch the “summer brain” and get ready to focus and pay attention in class. These 5 foods can literally feed our brains, boosting it’s functioning and focus to help kids stay on task at school.
One of the best sources of omega 3s is fish, especially fatty fish like salmon or tuna. Omega 3 fatty acids are brain foods, critical for healthy brain functioning and focus – and unfortunately, many Americans are deficient in omega 3s. My kids love tuna salad for lunch, which offers a mid-day brain boost. You can roll it up into a wrap, do a tuna salad with crackers, or I have even rolled it in seaweed to make “sushi.” But big fish like tuna can be high in mercury, so we choose Wild Planet brand tuna, because it has half the amount of mercury (compared to conventional brands), and a higher omega 3 content. Omega 3s not only help with brain functioning, but also are shown to boost mood, reduce inflammation, protect the heart, improve skin, and much more – one of the most important nutrients all Americans need. Additionally, tuna is a good source of protein and B6. People with focus or sleep issues tend to be B6 deficient and can also benefit from B6.
Taking a fish oil supplement is another good way to get EPA and DHA omega 3s – in our house, we like Barleans Omega Swirls, which now is available in a convenient to go packet. Omega Swirls 9 times more absorbable than other fish oil, and come in several delicious flavors.
2. Chia seeds
Walter Willet of Harvard Health recommends that we have fish or fish oils a few times a week, and a vegetarian omega 3 source every day. My favorite vegetarian source for omega 3s are chia seeds – because in addition to the omega 3s, these little seeds offers so much more. Chia seeds fill you up, offer lasting energy/endurance, and form a gel which helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. In addition, chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants & minerals. Chia seeds are rich in the ALA form of omega 3s, which the body needs to convert to the EPA/DHA forms. Chia doesn’t really taste like anything and can be easily added to many foods. Top your oatmeal, boost your smoothies, or add to your baking. I also like to make a quick chia pudding – just add a couple Tablespoons of chia seeds to a half cup of your favorite non-dairy milk (I like coconut), add a little vanilla, and a touch of your favorite all natural sweetener (like agave or stevia), and let it thicken for a few minutes. Voila – you have a delicious & nutritious pudding!
Look for foods boosted with chia seeds, like San Diego based Whales Tails torchia chips, and Nuttzo peanut free multi-seed nut butters – both great additions to the lunchbox!
3. Cacao -
A recent study showed that eating chocolate helped people to perform math problems better. Instead of a Hershey bar before math class, I recommend having something made with cacao, the key ingredient in chocolate that is good for our brains. I like to add local brand Sunfood‘s raw organic cacao to smoothies (try this Choco Banana Smoothie), I also make raw energy bars with it, dark chocolate black bean brownies, and you could even make homemade chocolate almond milk, just add cacao and your favorite natural sweetener. Cacao also is one of the best food sources of magnesium, which tends to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and introduces more oxygen rich blood to the brain. The majority of the population and up to 95% of kids with ADHD are magnesium deficient. Some signs of magnesium deficiency – poor memory/focus, headaches, dizziness, fear/anxiety/uneasiness, increased bone fractures, restless leg syndrome, hyperactivity, insomnia, constipation, apathy, and more. Kids who tend to fidget or are hyperactive might benefit from taking magnesium before school, because it will help to calm them down and boost focus. Another way to get magnesium is by taking a magnesium supplement, my kids like the raspberry lemon flavored Natural Calm. Too much magnesium can have a laxative effect, so start with the lowest dose possible.
Protein-rich eggs offer lasting energy which is key for focus and attention. Another focus-boosting nutrient that eggs offer is choline – which is important for brain development and memory. Over 90% of Americans are estimated to be deficient in choline. But don’t just eat the egg whites, because the choline and other important nutrients like lutein are all found in the egg yolks. I always recommend buying the organic or pastured eggs, which are naturally richer in omega 3s. A 2010 Penn State University study showed that hens raised in pastures laid eggs that had double the vitamin E and 2.5 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids compared to eggs from their caged conventional counterparts. If you can’t find pastured eggs, go for organic eggs, or organic omega 3 rich eggs that come from Chickens that are fed flax. Learn more about pasture-raised eggs, and read more about the many nutritional benefits of eggs. You can find pastured eggs at your local Whole Foods market.
Rich in antioxidants, berries help to reduce oxidative stress in the body and the brain. Strawberries also contain a flavenoid called fisetin which can improve the memory. Blueberries have Vitamin K, manganese, and vitamin C and have been shown in lab tests to help improve the cognitive function of elderly lab rats. If you are in a rush, Extreme Berries to Go is a cool way to get the antioxidants power of 4 servings of fruits and veggies in a delicious drink – just add to water and go! Unlike pasturized juices, Extreme Berries to Go are produced with low temperatures, which preserves the antioxidants, and there is only 1 gram of sugar per serving.
Getting Back On task
Getting back into the swing of school after Summer break can sometimes require a short adjustment period. Eating foods (or supplements) rich in Omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, protein and B Vitamins can help kids to focus and get on task throughout the year. Also avoiding foods with artificial colors, preservatives and too much sugar is a smart strategy. A supplement called On Task might be another option to consider for kids that continue to have trouble staying focused in school. On Task contains magnesium, B vitamins, Vitamin C, and zinc, to help improve the brain’s ability to focus and stay on task. Invented by parents whose child was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, and Tourette’s disorder, who were looking for a natural solution like On Task. They could not find one, so they created On Task. Read about their story, and some of the testimonials of customers.
Come to Whole Foods La Jolla on Thursday, August 30, 2012 from 1:00-3:00 to check out some of these great brain boosting foods and supplements!
Remember Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign from the 80’s dedicated to educating kids about the dangers of doing drugs? One memorable commercial had the egg frying in the pan and the slogan – this is your brain on drugs. The slogan for the commercial with the fried egg today could be “this is your brain on sugar.”
Not Just Empty Calories
We all know that super sweet foods and drinks are not good for us. But mounting evidence is revealing that they are not just harmless empty calories. Several studies have already linked consumption of sugar and high fructose corn syrup to obesity and increased risk of a host of diseases – including diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers. But one of the newest
studies out of UCLA, indicates that added sugars might just “make you dumber.” Fortunately, the study also revealed a magic bullet that can make your brain work smarter, even reversing some of the effects of fructose – omega 3s.
In the study, UCLA researchers put rats in a maze and gave them a few days to navigate and remember how to get around. Then they removed the rats from the maze for a 6 week period. During this time, one group of rats were fed an omega-3-rich diet, the other two groups consumed omega 3 deficient diets; one of which also drank a fructose solution in place of water. After the six weeks period on these diets, the researchers put the rats back in the maze to see how well they recalled it and performed.
The average American consumes roughly 142 pounds of added sugar a year (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture). The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to 8 teaspoons a day total. Not an easy task considering 1 can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons alone. The average American consumes more than 3 times the recommended amount of added sugar each day. Over half of all 8 years olds drink a soda each day, and one third of teenage boys are drinking 3 cans of sodas per day.
Researchers point to insulin – which affects not only blood sugar, but it also the way in which brain cells function. When we consume too many sweetened beverages and foods, our bodies become less able to process them, leading to a condition called insulin resistance – which can also lead to stubborn weight gain and even diabetes and other diseases overtime.
UCLA researchers were sure to clarify that there is a difference between naturally-occurring sugars, and those that are manufactured and added to foods and drinks. This is an important distinction, because the brain relies on sugar or glucose as it’s primary fuel. Research shows that too much added sugar, can actually deprive your brain of glucose, compromising the brain’s power to concentrate, remember, and learn.“We’re not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants,” explained Gomez-Pinilla. “We’re more concerned about the fructose in high-fructose corn syrup, which is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative.” Whole fruit also contains fiber, which helps to prevent insulin spikes and many American diets are lacking. But once a person has insulin resistance or diabetes, their body can even have trouble processing the naturally occurring sugars in fruits and other foods.
Luckily, taking omega-3s appears to counteract the negative effect of the fructose, even potentially reversing insulin resistance. The omega 3 rich diet had other protective effects beyond our brains. The rats who consumed less omega-3s had higher triglyceride, glucose and insulin levels: which is associated with a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. But the good news – the study found that omega 3s could reverse the insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).
The best sources of omegas 3 fatty acids are fatty cold-water fish like salmon, fish oil supplements, chia, flax and hemp seeds, tree nuts, and seaweed/algae supplements.
So what is the bottom line if you want your brain to work smarter? Get your omega-3s, and limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks. And researchers say it is never too early to start. “Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases.”
Here is a list of eleven other foods that can boost brain functioning too.
© copyright 2015 Sara Vance