Archive for the ‘Total Brain Health’ Category

June 2014 | Science Update

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

This summer we are proud to feature Science Updates written by our awesome summer interns. June’s updates focus on recent findings about nutrition and long-term dementia risk.

Can Nuts Keep You Brain Healthy? Sara Skutch, UNC-Chapel Hill

What: Nuts are an invaluable food for brain health because they contain essential fatty acids and support cardiovascular health, which has been highly correlated with better brain function. Data was collected from 15,467 women, aged 70 or older, who completed 4 interviews on their average nut consumption and 4 cognitive assessments over six years. Women who reported being in the highest group of nut consumers (>3 servings/month) showed higher performance after age 70 on memory tests, had higher recall speeds, and did better on general cognition assessments. The cognitive scores of the highest group were about two years better than the lowest group when controlled for age. They also were more likely to have lower body mass indexes, have attained higher levels of education, and were much less likely to have a history of high blood pressure.

Why it Matters: This study was the first one to focus on nuts having a direct impact on cognitive function. The findings were very valuable because they showed that eating nuts more frequently is a simply way to sustain brain health as people age. Including more nuts in one’s diet is relatively easy intervention, something that many people can do.

The Takeaway: Including more nuts in your diet is an easy way to keep your brain healthy at any age. And the benefits are not limited to your brain; the findings also showed that people who ate more nuts had lower body mass and blood pressure. You can’t lose with nuts!

 

Do We Age out of Anti-Oxidants? Andrea Schneider, Denison University

What: This study was conducted in 2013 to test if there was a relationship between the amount of antioxidants in the diet of elderly adults and the chance of them having a stroke or getting dementia.  The researchers used a sample of about 5,400 participants, all 55 or older, either stroke-free, dementia-free, or both.  The participants had to complete a meal-based checklist at the beginning of the process in order to measure their antioxidant levels throughout the study.  Over the 14-year time frame there were three follow-up assessments, which indicated over 600 cases of stroke/dementia, leading them to conclude that there was no apparent connection between the levels of antioxidants in their diets and the participant’s risk for neurological disorders such as dementia or stroke.

Why This Matters:  Better nutrition and the diet of elderly people has been associated with the improvement of cognitive function. This study is significant because it shows a lack of support for one aspect of this idea: that total antioxidant levels in the diet of elderly people can improve their brain health.  Other studies referenced in the article highlighted that in other age ranges there were improvements in brain health as a result of antioxidants, but for this particular age range there showed little to no connection.

The Takeaway:  While this study shows that increasing the amount of antioxidants in one’s diet does not influence the risk for stroke or dementia in older adults, it is still beneficial to include a well rounded amount of foods rich in antioxidants in our diets, including berries, beans, and dark greens.

Brain Diet Fads: Fact, Fiction or Fashion? What You Should Know to “Eat Smart” Now

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

When it comes to brain health, it seems nothing is more confusing than advice about what we eat and drink. The media’s obsessional reporting of every new finding on diet and memory (no matter how small or obscure the study) merely reflects our own anxieties about how the food on our table may literally turn the tables on our long-term vitality. Strident statements and specific instructions are increasingly made. Yet as a recent editorial in the Neurobiology of Aging journal states, “(s)o far, no nutritional intervention has been proved to be effective in reducing the risk or severity of Alzheimer’s or any dementia.”

While some may feel that there is little risk in making such diet recommendations regardless, this is not truly the case. Some trends may be risky  - for example the supplement ginkgo biloba can increase risk for bleeding in older adults, and is contraindicated in individuals taking blood thinning agents).  Others may be expensive, creating a potential economic burden for the user. Finally – and most ironically — too many of us live with a dose of disconnect between how we eat and what we know is good for our brains and our general health. Our population is increasingly overweight and consequent medical conditions that are known to impact brain health over the long-term, such as obesity and diabetes, are on the rise as a result. If we cannot follow even the simplest diet recommendations for our overall health, how are we going to get on board with a more complex one focused solely on boosting brainpower?

As an expert in brain health, I have long advocated that we “eat smart” by following a healthy, well-rounded diet and maintaining a healthy weight rather than focusing on a specific food fad or the supplement of the moment. The bulk of the science still falls firmly in favor of such an approach. A summary of  dietary guidelines from the 2013 International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain underscores this reasoned attitude regarding brain health and diet. The guidelines offered include limiting intake of saturated fatty acids, eating more vegetables and whole grains and including aerobic activity in one’s daily routine. These common sense suggestions are hardly revolutionary and confirm a simple strategy for those of us seeking ways to stay healthy.

Yet isn’t there something we can learn from the current trends and fashions in brain healthy eating? Let’s face it — they are hard to ignore. After all, at some point all science was once too “young” or “inconclusive” – I recall my grandfather telling me when he was a young boy olive oil was considered unhealthy (hard as it may be for us to imagine). While we do and should look to the hard science first, what if, as the evidence builds, these newer recommendations have merit?

When we consider the many “brain diets” popular today, I suggest that we can indeed find recommendations that can easily be accommodated within what the science supports, without significant risk or cost. In addition, many of these trends jive with cutting edge advice on eating for better overall health.

In that spirit, here is the Total Brain Health® take on how we can “eat smart” with an eye to some new nutritional ideas for better brain health:

Buck Tradition. If you eat the traditional American diet, it’s time to make a change. One of the most valuable things we can learn from looking at the dietary trends for both brain and body health is that we aren’t eating what the current science suggests we should. First step? Shift the balance of power on your plate by making veggies and fruits the main event with your protein of choice as the side. When grains are included, make sure they are whole grains and not of the refined variety. These simple moves will get you in line with the “greater food majority,” as everyone from the USDA to food guru Mark Bittman have been making this a priority recommendation for, well, years. In addition, it will up your chances of eating a more brain healthy diet, lowering your intake of saturated fat while upping your chances of getting more antioxidants.

Be Daring. Dare to be different — vary your diet so that you are constantly trying new foods and even new cuisines. Many of the current nutrition trends point to the pitfalls of always eating in the same familiar way. They suggest that it is the very lack of variety that may rob us of certain nutrients, increase our sensitivity to certain foods, or just simply keep us from making healthier choices. Follow more of a Mediterranean-style diet, found in many studies to potentially lower dementia risk. Eat more foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold-water fish (not just salmon but also sardines, mackerel, or anchovies), which seems to support better brain function over our lifetimes. If you don’t already, make non-meat based protein a regular part of your meal plans. You don’t have to stick to tofu – there are lots of ways to get that protein in, including beans, nuts and berries that substitute for grains (quinoa or buckwheat, for example). Mixing up your diet by daring to try new things can also offer you a different kind of brain boost, as the intellectual challenge of eating differently is a great way to “stretch” your mind as well.

Go Against the Grain. One of the hottest trends in brain health is the idea that eating gluten (found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and spelt) or even carbohydrates significantly increases our risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The science here, while interesting and with some merit, remains controversial. However it should make us at least think twice about the amount of gluten in our diet, which frankly is a lot. Bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner? Even if we aren’t ready to get on board the “grain brain” trend, isn’t it time we got rid of some of that gluten? Luckily if we are bucking tradition and daring to eat differently, it will be easier to do just that. Gluten-free alternatives include potato, rice, soy, and oats. You may also look to try quinoa, millet or amaranth, all ancient grains seeing resurgence due to greater interest in gluten-free eating. To get started, you can check out our Total Brain Health® Maple Grains Granola recipe, a simple yet delicious breakfast or snack alternative that uses these grains.

Savor Your Sustenance. Fostering mindfulness, or our ability to be present in the moment, has been shown in several studies to boost attention and improve intellectual performance. Making mindfulness a regular mealtime habit offers us a wonderful opportunity to practice being in the moment as we do something that we otherwise might do without further thought. Some experts suggest that we may even eat healthier and be more likely to maintain a healthy weight by practicing mindfulness as part of our mealtime routine. What does it take to eat mindfully? Simply shifting our focus and attention to the full experience of eating. To get started, check out yoga teacher Jillian Pransky’s Mindful Eating Meditation or pick up the book Savor by meditation expert Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lillian Cheung.

I hope you find these tips for integrating the latest brain healthy nutrition trends into your daily eating routine helpful. Have some advice or tips to share? Let us know, we’d love to hear what you do for yourself, your family or your clients. Happy eating to all!

Brain Healthy Eating from Cal-a-Vie Health Spa | Chef Curtis Cooke’s Awesome Savoy Cabbage Salad with Walnuts

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I was recently the featured guest presenter at the spectacular Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, CA. In addition to the opportunity to engage in great discussions about brain healthy living with the spa guests, I had the chance to get to know the spa’s talented chef, Curtis Cooke, and amazing nutritionist, May Tom. The week featured some brain healthy recipes they have given us permission to share with our readers. Just a little way you can bring Cal-a-Vie home to your own kitchen!

First up — a brain healthy salad that combines the antioxidants of crucifers with the omega-boost of walnuts. This delicious salad is a great lunch main course or side for dinner with a lean protein such as chicken or salmon. Enjoy!

Dr. Green

Cal-a-Vie Savoy Cabbage Salad with White Balsamic Vinagriette Dressing

30 Days to Total Brain Health featuring TED | Day 29 | Elizabeth Loftus: The Fiction of Memory

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

While we often worry about losing our memory, we rarely concern ourselves with whether or not our memories are accurate. Yet compare your memory of a specific childhood event with a sibling or parent, or your recollection of trip details with your spouse, and you may be surprised at how differently two people may recall the same event.

Researcher Elizabeth Loftus has made significant contributions to our understanding of memory and has introduced to the field the concept of “false memory,” or our ability to convince ourselves of recollections that are, in fact, inaccurate. Its a fascinating topic with implications not only in the field of memory, but also in the legal field and beyond. Her TED presentation is a great one to really think about. Enjoy!

 

30 Days to Total Brain Health featuring TED | Day 28 | BLACK: My Journey to Yo Yo Mastery

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

It’s Day 28 of our “30 Days to Total Brain Health” featuring TED, and one last chance to focus on ways to get aerobically active. Here’s one form of exercise you may not have tried in a while — training by yo-yo. You remember the yo-yo, don’t you? While we may think of the yo-yo as challenging coordination and fine motor control, it is also a great way to get a work out.

Here Yo Yo Master BLACK shares his story and his wizardry. Perhaps it will inspire us all to get out a yo-yo and give our bodies and our minds a workout! Enjoy!