How’s this for a New Year’s resolution?Resolve to improve your mood, concentration, and energy, lower your stress hormone levels, re-balance your hormones, and reduce your risk for dementia and many other chronic diseases—all by Valentine’s Day. All you have to do is commit to a brain-healthy lifestyle—starting with diet.
What is a brain-healthy diet, you ask?
The very same diet that is healthy for the rest of your body, thankfully. With all the confusing, contradictory and constantly-changing headlines about which foods are good or bad for us, it’s easy to be frustrated and even to give up trying to eat “healthy”, because it seems nobody seems to agree on what a healthy diet is. The reason for this is that the majority of nutrition headlines are based on poorly-designed rodent research and “epidemiological studies” instead of on dietary experiments in humans. The “conclusions” of epidemiological studies are literally GUESSES based on food and health questionnaires and statistical manipulation. These guesses are often heavily influenced by the dietary beliefs and preferences of the scientists who design the studies. When these guesses are later tested in clinical trials, more than 80% of them are eventually proved wrong. THIS is why nutrition headlines are so bewildering. One day eggs are bad for you (epidemiology), the next day they’re fine (clinical trials).
The information I’ve compiled for you in this simple list is 100% epidemiology-free. Instead, the guidelines below are grounded in the science of anthropology, biochemistry, botany, human physiology, and human clinical trials. All underlined phrases within the list are live links to scientific references or fully-referenced articles with more information.
There are no magical superfoods or supplements involved in this all-natural, science-based approach. Just a few simple, common-sense rules about what to eat and, perhaps most importantly, what NOT to eat.
Ten Tips for a Healthier Brain
- Eat only real, whole, “pre-agricultural” foods: seafood, red meat, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I recommend avoiding all grains (wheat, corn, rice, oats, etc). and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, hummus, soy, etc.) because they are low in nutrients and high in anti-nutrients and lectins that pose risk to human health.
- Drink water or unsweetened, naturally-flavored water/seltzer when you’re thirsty. Drinking sweetened beverages is dangerous—putting you on the fast track to a damaged metabolism and then keeping you there. It is just as important to avoid fruit juices, even all-natural juices with no sugar added, as the body cannot distinguish between various forms of liquid sugar. Click here for a table of sugar content in various beverages including fruit juices.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates like the plague. Concentrated, processed sugars and starches cause unnaturally high spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels that destabilize brain chemistry and damage brain cell metabolism. Examples include sugar, flour, fruit juice, and processed cereals.
- Avoid refined “vegetable” (seed) oils like soybean, safflower, and corn oil, and choose natural unprocessed animal and fruit fats instead. Industrially-produced seed oils tend to be high in omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation and fight against the omega-3 fatty acids our brains and immune systems require to function properly. Examples of healthier fat choices include lard, schmaltz, beef tallow, olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. See my post Cooling Brain Inflammation Naturally with Food for a table of the omega-6 content of various plant and animal fats.
- Include animal protein in your diet on a regular basis—seafood, poultry, red meat, eggs, etc. Plant proteins are not only harder to digest and absorb, but the foods they come from are high in “anti-nutrients” that rob the brain (and body) of key minerals and other essential nutrients. I realize that there are many reasons to eat a plant-based diet that are unrelated to brain health, so if you choose to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, please learn all you can about proper supplementation of key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin K2, EPA, DHA, iron and zinc. Read my post The Vegan Brain for more information.
- Minimize alcohol and be careful with caffeine, especially if you have anxiety or insomnia. For more information, read Foods and Substances That Can Cause Anxiety and Insomnia.