EP 43 – Eat This: The Best Foods For Your Brain

Feeling blah, struggling to be up-beat and not sure where your happy side has gone? You’re not alone. Feeling unmotivated, wondering where your memory has gone, and that includes your mental health. What do you need less of and a lot more of to help the blues?

That low, blah mood, mental health issues of depression and anxiety, feeling the blues, that inability to focus, feeling unmotivated in your day and actually remembering that your memory is not recalling as well as it once did, all add to the overwhelm of uncertain times that we are living in right now. Sure having a sore knee, back ache or pain can be debilitating in many ways, but when you can’t quite string that thought, remember a word or feel so blue that you want to hide under the duvet for days, that’s a different level of debilitating and it’s time to move past the hope that it will ‘just get better’. Then there’s the concern of cognitive decline that we see in our aging parents and loved ones. Maybe we don’t consider that it could be me one day, so focusing on eating for brain health doesn’t rank as high. What if the conversation and view of how our mind is functioning, like really looking at brain and mental health, was taken as seriously as preventing a heart attack and cardiovascular disease? We talk about that all the time, right? Well it’s time to bring more attention to what we are eating and our mental health.

So today on EAT THIS with Lianne, The BEST and WORST foods for your brain and mental health.

What if the problem is at the end of your fork? Sure we know sugar, fats, processed foods, aren’t good for health, but let’s get specific and why. A focus of mine with my consulting clients is to teach them more about the why of my specific recommendations, and I have found that leads to more of a buy-in when they don’t want to make the changes that I suggest. Truthfully it’s not complicated. It’s not fancy or expensive. It’s actually very simple. I’m not saying that it’s easy. It’s easy to hit the drive thru, seems to take less time and fills the hunger of the moment, but really is it putting nutrients into the bank of your body? Sadly no. It fuels the desire for more. Another and another. And on top of that you’re far more likely to eat more of it – as in the burger needs fries and a drink – for you to feel full. If you had a bowl of soup made from carrots, celery, onion, garlic, broth and lentils, with a side of crusty whole grain sourdough bread, you’re not only going to need less but your body and brain will thank you with nutrients that feed energy, focus, and better memory. 

This episode is a bit self serving, to be honest, because of what’s been going on for my kids and me. I’ve seen my youngest daughter struggle a lot with her mood, really being down over the past couple of weeks. I realized the other day while we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of her mood, you know, what happened, if anything and why she’s so blue. Well, while that is one place to focus, I realized that we’ve been lax with our usual supplements. The Sunshine D3+K2, was at the bottom of the drawer, the Omega Boost, was finished and not replaced. The Bio Boost was being taken but not consistently and Liposome B Complex, well I’m not sure what happened there but I know that there’s more in the bottle than in us, so now we are back on the program. More comfort food crept in, and foods leftover from birthdays in the cupboards and freezer were more of the go-to and it all adds up. Then before you know it, something happens to bring the focus back.  You know the hit on the head, the slap across the face, the UM HULLO, remember what you talk about all the time, and aren’t doing. Well, here’s your wake up call, or nudge. Yep, I’m awake. 

Back in this episode, I spoke with Dr Paula Rochelle and she wowed me with the depth of information about brain health, so for more from a brilliant Naturopath head back there. In this episode I want to focus on the food. For many years we’ve focused on what’s good for our heart, how to eat to avoid diabetes and even obesity, and that’s all worthwhile, but now we need to shout this from the rooftops because people of all ages are suffering. 

So what really happens in the brain when we opt for honey instead of jam, and fish rather than sausage? Scientists around the world are trying to find out, and they’re doing a good job of it. 

The research showing the effects of too much fat and sugar, you know from ultra processed pizza you had last night for dinner, those cakes that you crave, cookies, breads, cereal, even that pack of 6 croissants you picked up at your last shop for a more European feel breakfast, yep, they’re ultra processed too. Packaged foods can be seen as processed and ultra processed. To differentiate, look at the ingredient label. That looooong list of ingredients, usually with sugar closer to the start of the list, but then there are some of which you don’t know what they are, those are ultra processed. When you buy a package of frozen peas, a tub of yogurt or pasta with three ingredients on the label, well that’s different. And why should you care? Well ultimately the more the food is processed, the more it all leads to inflammation. Our brain works on signals that travel all over the body and when there’s inflammation, it hinders their ability to do what they need to. 

All foods that come in some sort of package have the potential to contain sugar. The more sugar you eat, the more you want. It’s plain and simple. Eating more sugary foods can even lead the brain to be more susceptible to images of food, so that ad for a milkshake can draw you in more after you’ve eaten that cookie because it’s become your afternoon habit with a cup of tea. Ahem, yes, I’m talking about myself here because the French patisserie stand at the market that I go to weekly has the most incredible shortbread and it pairs nicely with my afternoon cup of Earl Grey, so excuse me while I talk to myself here. 

You’ve heard it, read it and heard me say over and over again the draw of sugar, that need, and addiction comes from altered brain circuitry that is comparable to abusive drugs. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the more sugar you eat, the more you NEED to consume to get the same feeling from just one cookie. It’s like it’s never enough. 

Ok let’s get down to it.

I thought it best to give you the foods that are the worst for your brain and follow up with those that you CAN eat to support your brain and mental health and I’ll give you a few reasons why. 

  • Processed Foods like your boxed pizza, crackers, frozen store bought lasagna are typically high in saturated fats, they have added sugar and refined carbs, all of which are associated with poorer cognitive outcomes.
  • Processed Meats. You know, the ones you love like bacon, sausage, beef jerky, and lunch meats that have been smoked or preserved with nitrites that form compounds called nitrosamines, and that can promote neurodegeneration.
  • Red Meat. Yes, that burger, steak, or meatloaf. It’s a concentrated source of heme iron that’s only found in animal foods. In excess it can increase oxidative stress–so stress on your cells, and that’s toxic to the brain and research shows it can raise risk for Alzheimers. 
  • Butter, margarine and vegan Butter Substitutes. Now I’ve always been one to say eat the butter, not the alternatives, so I’ll clarify. They’re all concentrated sources of saturated fat, and regular consumption has been associated with cognitive decline. Studies suggest no more than one tablespoon per day. I think that’s doable. 
  • Aspartame and artificial sweeteners, well they acts as a stressor in the body, raising cortisol or stress levels and causing excess production of free radicals, which are what antioxidants fight against. Artificially-sweetened sodas have been associated with a higher risk for stroke and dementia.
  • Fried Food. Not a shock really is it? Fried foods are associated with worsened memory and cognitive function, especially when animal-derived ingredients are used.
  • Cheese. Ah cheese… yes, it’s high in saturated fats, which have been linked to increased oxidative stress and poorer cognitive outcomes.
  • Those lovely pastries and sweets. Sadly my shortbread means I’m eating processed baked goods and that spikes insulin production, which can lead to insulin resistance in the brain, impairing memory and cognitive function. Damn, right? I love my shortbread, but it’s time to let it go. 
  • Sugary Drinks. Drinking multiple sugary drinks per day is linked to smaller brain size and worse memory. And if that’s not bad enough, regularly drinking two sodas per day may worsen memory function that is similar to aging more than ten years.
  • And last but not least, excessive alcohol. I’m talking about heavy drinking — defined as drinking more than 8 drinks a week — and I know many people are in this camp because it’s a coping mechanism. Well too many drinks is associated with faster cognitive decline. It’s time to move that daily drinking to weekends only. 

Ok so I’ve likely touched on something that you’re eating daily, something that sneaks in without you knowing it, like my shortbread. Damn that French bakery. 

Now let’s talk about what you CAN eat, what looks good on the end of your fork. 

  • Let’s start with avocados. They’re rich in antioxidants that suppress free radicals, and can prevent neuron death. YES PLEASE. They may help prevent neurodegenerative disease and contain monounsaturated fatty acids and folate, which both help prevent Alzheimer’s.
  • Blueberries. Gotta get em in. And lots of them. Researchers have found that eating 2 servings of blueberries per week may delay cognitive decline by 2 ½ years. That’s it frozen blueberries are coming to the top of the freezer drawer now. 
  • Coffee. Yes, pick yourself off the floor. I said coffee. But black, nothing extra in it. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that protect the brain from damage. One study showed that three to five cups of coffee a day at midlife was associated with a 65% decreased Alzheimer’s risk
  • Dark Chocolate. No not your Halloween candy that’s calling your name, or the usual chocolate bar. Dark more bitter chocolate that has a high cacao content. It’s about the flavonoids that promote neuron and blood vessel growth in the brain, stimulate brain blood flow, and may improve recall and cognitive processing. I think this deserves an episode of it’s own with all that power. Let me know if that’s of interest. 
  • Green Tea. Yep, I drink green tea every morning now. It contains EGCG, a flavonoid that can bind to and prevent formation of beta-amyloid proteins, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s. White, oolong, black, and peppermint tea have brain benefits, too, so hydrate away with more tea. 
  • Add in herbs and spices like turmeric that reduces inflammation and increases blood flow to the brain. Apigenin in parsley, thyme, oregano, and basil, can protect the brain from inflammation, oxidation, and plaque formation and make your meal or dish way tastier too. 
  • Leafy Greens – you had to know I was going to say eat your greens after my last episode about Superfoods. One study found that a daily serving of leafy green vegetables could slow cognitive aging by 11 years. Yes, that’s kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, watercress and salad lettuces that have green colour, so no not iceberg on the shopping list right now. 
  • Legumes like beans and lentils. They’re high in protein and fiber that may halt or significantly slow Alzheimer’s progression by preventing formation of amyloid-β plaque. I thought I’d throw in a fancy word there. Eat them at least 3 times a week for optimal brain health.

Now onto the good fats. 

  • Nuts & Seeds – almonds, walnuts, brazils, hazelnuts, sunflower, sesame, chia, hemp, flax and pumpkin. They’re all anti-inflammatory and rich in sterols, stanols, fiber, minerals, and vitamin E, that protect brain cells from oxidative damage and boost thinking, creativity and cognitive function.
  • Oily Fish. Omega 3 rich fish; salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, sardines and trout. With 97% of people being deficient in omega 3, have a think about the last time you ate fish. I realized when I was at the market last week that it had been a while since I bought fish. I kinda shocked myself. So I bought a beautiful locally caught piece of salmon, cooked the whole fillet and ate it all week with a bunch of wilted greens and seeds. Then I had shortbread. I have work to do. If you can’t stand fish, which happens, check out my Take This Omega Boost on SproutRight.com. Swallow that omega instead of eating it. You need both, but one is better than none. 

And one last one to mention is the impact of all fruits and vegetables on health.

  • From the plant chemicals called phytonutrients, and antioxidants but also how the fibre positively influences your microbiome. While I always recommend taking probiotics like my TAKE THIS Bio Boost, know that continuing to eat high fibre foods, and not just from All Bran, really helps to nourish your microbiome, the good bacteria in your gut that is strongly linked with your brain and mental health. 

So what have you retained from all that? Yes, the fast food, the pastries, the breads and cheese, fried foods, artificial sweetener, sugary drinks and processed meats are ones to avoid, but the list of what to enjoy is plentiful.  Maybe if all this went in one ear and out the other, and didn’t land in your brain, it’s worth another listen with a plateful of greens with a side of avocado, topped with salmon and a handful of seeds. I feel like there is so much going on that my brain needs all the power that it can get. It also needs sleep, something that’s easy to get deprived of if also not focused on. Go to bed early. Yep, just turn the TV off and go. Don’t think about it. As author Mel Robbins book says, say 5 4 3 2 1 and do it. 

You don’t have to wait for a kick in the pants, or a wake up call, you can just choose to alter your next meal, right? Keep it simple. 

Need help choosing supplements?

If you’re not sure what’s right for you or your family and where to start, book a 15 minute call with me to get clear on what’s the priority. I’ve had a bunch of calls with many listeners this week, and they feel more confident with what they thought and then order. 

Share this, share any of the episodes with friends and anyone who you think needs this. You truly don’t know when passing it on can change someone’s health and life. Reach out to me with your thoughts, comments and feedback on @SproutRight on FB IG and Twitter and also @liannephillipson or send an email through either site. I get the emails and I reply. 

I wish you a focused, upbeat and light week while including all these brain supportive foods all while you EAT THIS one mouthful at a time.

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