By Brent Moore, CSCS
As a fitness professional, it is painfully apparent that the hardest thing people have a hard time with is eating healthy. A person can want to get in the best shape of their life and they will work hard in the gym and may even cut calories. The problem is, they often will not cut out the habits that are sabotaging their weight-loss efforts. Wine, soda, beer, cigarettes, cookies, diet drinks, candy, ice cream, and all the other unhealthy habits people have hold on like a Velcro to a sweater in the dryer. Now, chances are, you read that and thought, “well, I don’t smoke, or drink beer” or “I don’t ever eat candy.” Look at those things and think about what you do, not what you don’t take in. The problem with theses habits is that they are not only standing in the way of your health, but they are also a part of a cycle that is keeping you unhealthy and reinforcing your bad habits.
Hippocrates said “Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have t help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.”
Most people realize that bad food is not doing anything good for their bodies, but do you realize what it may be doing to your brain? Nobody wants to deal with dementia in their old age and if you have firsthand experience with a family member or friend with Alzheimer’s disease, you would likely do anything to avoid that fate. The good news is, there is evidence showing that you have a lot of ways to control the risk of dementia. Some researchers have concluded that Alzheimer’s is not a disease of old age, but rather a lifelong process that begins in youth (Marano, 2016). In one study, Richard Isaacson found that as a little as six months of a healthy diet with lots of fresh vegetables and light on carbohydrates can reduce memory decline, speed up mental processing, and enhance inhibitory control and attention (Marano, 2016).
Dr. Lisa Mosconi, the founder and director of the Nutrition and Brain Fitness Lab at New York University Medical Center, found that a higher intake of vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, along with consuming foods high in vitamins, E, A, and C, and high in fiber positively affected glucose metabolism in the brain (Marano, 2016) In addition, people who consumed foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium had lower brain volumes than people who ate healthier (Marano, 2016). Marano points out that Mosconi only found strong effects when the nutrients were consumed in food and not from supplements.
Foods that are bad for you can increase inflammation in the body and the brain. Food allergies, unique to each person, can increase inflammation in the brain which will lead to decreased blood flow. Dr. Daniel Amen, the leading expert in SPECT brain imaging displays SPECT images of healthy brains and unhealthy brains on his website. The amount of activity in specific areas of the brain decreases greatly with even moderate alcohol consumption and a high sugar diet. Nicotine makes the negative effects even stronger. Your generous pour of one glass of wine per night is likely not as good for you as you think. You can get much more antioxidants from fresh fruit and vegetables and not do any damage to your brain or body. Sugar is the first thing you need to kick in your diet. Sugar is often hidden with other names such as sorbitol, fructose, cane juice crystals, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, and barley malt (Amen & Amen, 2016). Dr. Amen and his wife, Tana Amen, BSN, RN, point out that farmers feed animals corn, soy, and potatoes to make them fat very quickly (2016) If that is not enough of a reason to steer clear, know that many of the pesticides used in treating these common foods are associated with ADHD, cancer, depression, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, and liver disease (Amen & Amen, 2016).
It can be hard to kick bad foods. Consider this, binge eaters eat less food when given naltrexone, a drug that binds with the opioid receptors to prevent other molecules from binding to them. Naltrexone, is what you give to someone who has overdosed on heroine or was given to much morphine (Amen & Amen, 2016). Foods like gluten and dairy products are especially addictive and people who stop taking them in can often have withdrawal symptoms (Amen & Amen, 2016).
The good news is, your brain can heal itself if you stop putting bad things in and replace them with good fruits and vegetables. You will also want to take in high quality proteins like eggs, fish, lamb, chicken, beef, and bison. It will also benefit you to take in nuts and seeds, lentils, chickpeas, and quality grains like quinoa. Keep your grain intake on the low end, but do not cut it out. Cook with healthy oils like avocado oil, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, and olive oil. Your brain and your body will get healthier and thank you. Eat healthy whether you want a better brain or a better body. The two will work together to support the other. Adding in exercise to your new diet will make maintaining it easier and will enhance the positive effects of good food on your brain. Think strong, be strong, and live a long healthy life. What’s stopping you?
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Amen, D. G., & Amen, T. (2016). The brain warrior’s way: ignite your energy and focus, attack illness and aging, transform pain into purpose. New York: New American Library.
Marano, H. E. (2016, Nov. & Dec.). Human Brain: no known expiration date. Psychology Today, 49(6), 63-88.