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Power Foods For Your Brain

“I can’t control everything in my life, but I can control what I put in my body.” -Unknown


In a previous post, The Emotional Impact, I discussed our fears about having another stroke and some remedies for those fears. Due to the fact that these fears are an indication of PTSD, psychotherapy is required to alleviate it. Kathleen Todd discusses this issue in her article, posted recently on solutions for post-stroke emotional effects.


It is now time to discuss another prevention solution for addressing the fear experiencing another stroke - a nutritional one - Brain Power Foods.

There are many theories of which power foods are the best, so I will do my best to sift through the various recommendations, then you can make your own decisions.

Every single day, multiple times a day, we are thinking about what to eat - or what we want to eat. Autonomously we do this, for survival reasons we do this - now it’s even in our faces every place you turn, someone has an opinion on what to eat or what not to eat.


I have been following Dr. Mark Hyman’s work for many years, so recently I picked up: Food, What the Heck Should I Eat?, for a couple reasons. First, I am always interested in how to feed my brain, both before and after my stroke occurred. Second, many of you have written into the blog (and I've also seen on multiple forums) about what the heck you should eat?!


We hear so many conflicting things, eggs are good - eggs are bad; orange juice is good - orange juice is bad. Who is to say? As Dr. Hyman puts it, “The science of nutrition is often squishy” with so many studies, conflicting answers, results, and it is one of the hardest things to scientifically study individually! Remember when the government told us all that fats were bad? Stop eating coconut oil and egg yolks they said! Fast forward a few decades - and they tell us all they were wrong, nevermind - eat the eggs!


Another reason food information is so confusing is because it has become a regulated commodity in the business world - not a right, but a benefit, if you are able to afford whatever you are. Companies have taken foods that are very healthy and made them convenient for people, adding lots of sugar or bad fats to compensate for their cost - and at our health’s expense!


One of the things I love about the book is his simple Nutrition IQ quiz. Though the book is chalk-full of decoding food misconceptions and myths, these ten stand out, and with things most of us have all heard. Here is a quick summary (with keeping a mind for moderation with all foods):

  • Oatmeal: the instant kind is a no-no, go for oat bran if you like. The instant kinds are full of sugar and spike your insulin through the roof.

  • Eggs: they are now considered a health food, cholesterol myths have been debunked by scientists.

  • Orange juice: “...is essentially soda with some vitamins..” says Dr. Hyman. I’ve been told this by many of those in the healthcare field - steer clear, it’s loaded with sugars.

  • Red meat: is not your enemy. The book goes into much detail about this. Meat is a wonderful source of protein and other amino acids that we need as humans. (This is not telling you to eat meat, simply that it is OK and not the heart-hazard many thought previously.)

  • Weight gain: is caused by insulin spikes in the body, which are generally assisted to slowly work through your body along with carbohydrates. It is about how YOUR body’s metabolism is working. High fat diets are now being looked at more seriously, and found to promote weight loss over gain.

  • Gluten-free: anything processed is going against the healthy scale here. Enjoy gluten-free natural foods like avocados (also high in good fats), chicken, apples - avoid the doughnuts and cookies. That doesn't mean CARBS are bad, however, PROCESSED CARBS are (like white bread).

  • Calories are not equal to calories. For example, 400 calories of soda is the same as 400 calories of fruit - FALSE. Fats, vegetables and proteins are what will naturally speed up your metabolism and promote your healthy brain and body.

  • Dairy: not all dairy is great, especially with the ways cows are raised as livestock in America. It does not promote healthy bones as previously thought according to Hyman.

  • Butter: we now know that not all fat is bad for us. So, yes, eat butter! However - healthy, grass-fed options are best to consume in moderation. However, margarine and butter subs WILL have a negative affect in comparison. If you have ever heard of ghee, check it out - a very healthy butter!

  • Oils: Refined vegetable oils (minus olive) are a newer human invention we began consuming 100+ years ago that provide us with Omega 6 fats. The best oils provide Omega 3’s (fish oil, flax seed, walnuts) according to the book, providing us with vital nutrition.

  • Plant based diets may be best for someone not attempting to build muscle (if you are concerned with changing your diet), as they do not contain high levels of a necessary amino acid that meat does to help us build muscle.

  • Protein exists in foods everywhere - not just meat. You can find it in many legumes, beans, nuts, cheeses, fish, even CRICKETS! Of course, choosing healthy grass-fed, humane, no-antibiotic, options are best for things like beef (as the additives and chemicals put into feed for livestock is NOT regulated by the government) because they feed animals in the natural way they should be eating, grass - not corn or leftover whatever they feel like throwing in the mix. Now that we’ve gone through a few of the major myths about food, lets move to talking about what is good for your brain.

In the book, Dr. Hyman states “...brains are largely made of fat, primarily the omega-3 fatty acid DHA….”. In fact, the government is aware of this and directs pregnant women to eat more omega 3’s, as studies are showing babies ARE smarter when the mother’s diet consists of healthy levels of the necessary fats. Our brains NEED healthy fats! What else does it need? Delicious vitamins and minerals in the form of produce.


Eating organic. We are all too familiar with this topic nowadays - to do or not to do is the question. We know now that there are many foods found loaded with pesticides, GMO’s, and more. Hyman suggests (and many others) to eat as organic as possible, with a list of vegetables to keep your eye on organically versus not when your options are limited. For example, potatoes and bell peppers are found to have more pesticides than any other produce. Other items that should be purchased organically are:

  • cucumbers

  • kale (and other leafy greens)

  • tomatoes

  • spinach

  • bell peppers

  • broccoli

  • apples

  • and many more...

Produce such as onions, eggplant, asparagus and cauliflower can be bought non organically if needed. He also recommends that frozen vegetables are okay - especially if frozen right after harvesting, and not to steam vegetables for longer than 4 minutes (as this is the best way to consume the nutrients). Don’t forget to wash your veggies properly - scrub and/or add a little vinegar to a bowl of water and dunk in the produce for a minute before scrubbing.


Foods that are good for you and promote brain health (in moderation and with your doctors approval of course) are: dark chocolate, berries (but keep a watch on this in the US, there was a health scare recently in some states), nuts and seeds, oily fish, whole grains, avocados, eggs, broccoli, kale, carrots, and bell peppers. Our bodies (especially post-stroke) are very sensitive and can be mindfully monitored - only WE can change OURSELVES. Talk about your diet with your therapist or doctor and see what they recommend is best for you. You may even reach out to an Ayurvedic practitioner, holistic dietician or a chinese herbalist for help on herbs, spices, tinctures and vitamins that will help you specifically. There is a great article about eating mindfully (which also improves our brain function and stress levels) on the site Banyan Botanicals, read The Benefits of Mindful Eating by clicking here.


I also want to note that Dr. Hyman’s site, The Food Book (click here) provides a free healthy recipe to your inbox every week when you sign up for the newsletter. The book is really great, I highly recommend reading it if you are wondering about all of these food diets, myths and all the rest!


I hope you found this information useful, as I know how confusing diets can be. Eat healthy whole foods - including healthy fats and carbs, stick to moderation, drink lots of water, and watch your sugars!!! With our diets, it seems we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel - but rather journey along with it! Have a wonderful week - and keep this stuff in mind moving into the delicious holiday season!

Maureen

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