When it comes to quality of life, just about everyone agrees, having a sharp mind and clarity of thought is the most important health factor they want to retain as they grow older. When given a variety of “aging” scenarios, people would rather lose their mobility, than lose their mind.
That said, we’re not always putting our money where our mouth is (no pun intended); eating high amounts of sugar, processed foods and simple carbohydrates will literally starve your brain and set the stage for Alzheimer’s, dementia and as a bonus, heart disease. That’s right – the research is in and it shows the high sugar/carb diet that Americans have so joyfully embraced, totally skews the metabolic balance of the brain. Processed food loaded with sugar and high amounts of carbohydrate literally starves (and thus kills) your brains’ memory capabilities.
The overall effect is a complex process, but the crux of it centers on brain-produced insulin and the protein ADDL; excess sugar causes ADDL to increase in your brain, which causes memory to deteriorate. This is why studies show, diabetics have twice the probability of ending up with Alzheimer’s.
So what is the answer to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia? For once I can actually say there is a one-size-fits-all solution. That would be to greatly reduce eating sugar, processed foods and tons of simple carbs, and replace them with healthy fats (which is what our brain thrives on) like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and grass-fed pastured butter.
Whaaaat? Did I just tell you to replace sugar and carbs with fat-based “fattening” food? Yes indeed; your body knows exactly what to do with real, healthy fat – it uses it as fuel, and most specifically, brain fuel. It’s the overload of sugar, carbs and other highly processed foods that your body can’t deal with, and ultimately stores as body fat, spikes your blood sugar/insulin levels, and kills your memory. Of course, it goes without saying that substituting in lots more colorful veggies would be a great benefit too.
Now I’m not saying that making appropriate dietary changes is easy, but tell me, what great accomplishments in life are? To paraphrase T.D. Jakes, life is a battle. When you win a [health] battle, what you’ve really done is won the right to now fight at the next higher level. That’s what health is; a lifelong battle between what your brain thinks you want to eat (donuts, french fries, candy bars, ice cream, cinnamon rolls, pizza…), and what you really need to be feeding your brain – and your body.
Once you win that first health battle, you move to the next level and start to refine your eating for other issues, like arthritis by avoiding inflammatory foods, or low energy, or high blood pressure, or eye health, and so on. The bottom line to this is that “battle” for maintaining vibrant health won’t end until you take your last breath!
So how do you kick start brain health? In January I had written about making resolutions that are small and doable, committing to them until they become a habit, then adding in a few more resolutions. Believe it or not, that simple little formula is how people achieve lasting success in changing their eating lifestyle – and regaining health. Here’s a basic outline for you to begin eating, for your memory’s sake:
1. Examine what you normally eat for breakfast. If there is a high-carb component like bread, boxed cereal, granola bar (yes indeed, though marketed as “healthy” they are as bad as a candy bar) or other high-carb item, swap it out for a higher protein/healthy fat item, like an avocado omelet, or a no-cook pudding made from pureed cooked pumpkin, pie spices, full-fat coconut milk and chia seed.
2. Do the same for lunch and dinner. Make only ONE change per meal; choose the highest sugar/carb item and swap it out for a healthier option. For example, instead of having pasta, replace it with spaghetti squash, zucchini zoodles (thin noodles made from raw zucchini that are lightly cooked), or kelp noodles (made from seaweed they have zero carbs). If you normally eat a sandwich, replace the bread with crisp lettuce leaves, and use lettuce to replace the tortilla in a taco.
3. Commit to this for 1 month; for the first 2 weeks, keep a log and figure out when and where you have the most difficulty in keeping your commitment. Once you know where your trouble spots are, you can focus on those over the next two weeks. Continue to keep the log – it is the roadmap to success. (I highly recommend Cronometer.com, you can enter your food via computer or use their phone app; once you get in the habit it only takes a few moments to track your meals.)
There are a number of insights you will garner from this process, and the first will be that in order to eat healthier, you’re cooking more often. There’s no way around that, but when you can’t cook and fast food is all that’s available, there are the “lesser of two evils” options:
For a fast-food breakfast, grab the plain oatmeal from McDonalds or the plain egg/cheese/English muffin; from Dunkin Donuts try their wake-up wrap (this one wins the lowest carb prize for all the restaurants). For lunch or dinner, shift to a lettuce-wrap protein style alternative from In-n-Out or Carl’s Jr. (both offer that option while other chains using shredded lettuce, do not). If there’s a Chipotle nearby, order a salad bowl instead of a burrito or rice bowl. Note, I rarely order salads at most fast-food joints because they’re often loaded with sugar.
Are there other ways to keep your insulin down and your brain healthy, yet still occasionally enjoy a few of life’s luxurious little cheats? Oh, you bet there are, but you’ll have to wait for the next article to learn about out those little tricks.
Candy Lesher, Chef and Culinary Wellness Coach, Training and coaching clients to achieve a healthy culinary lifestyle based on their medical directives and personal tastes, through custom-designed menus and recipes. You can reach Candy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 480-266-0701.