Ryan's mom likes to say that Fredrik is going to be a genius. That may or may not come true, but we do know that eating certain foods does appear to confer specific benefits to the brain. Max Lugavere, health & science journalist, wrote a book all about it, and aptly titled it "Genius Foods." I'm not going to do a lengthy review of the book, I'm just going to say that I really enjoyed it! Tons of well researched information, and presented in a way anyone can understand. Essentially it comes down to reducing inflammation, and providing the body with adequate vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So what are the top brain foods according to Max; and how can you and your family eat more of these foods?
Check out some of these recipes for inspiration:
Cruciferous Vegetables (Broccoli)- Steamed with butter for infants, broccoli salad for adults (use Swerve instead of sugar in the dressing).
Dark Leafy Greens - Ryan and I's current favorite way to eat these are in salads. A bag of cruciferous crunch salad mix from Trader Joe's added to chopped romaine and spinach makes it easy to get in a nice combination of greens. If you prefer your greens cooked, a quick sauté is nice, but after living in Georgia, southern collard greens is a real treat for us.
Avocado - While I happily eat avocados with just a dash of salt, Fredrik will not. He actually cries when I try to feed it to him plain. However, mashing it with frozen/thawed raspberries is favorite breakfast. Making chocolate avocado pudding will get you bonus points with your family.
Fatty Fish - Fredrik likes smoked salmon and canned oysters. For budget conscious families, make a salmon salad using wild caught canned salmon. We always buy the big can from Trader Joe's.
Nuts (almonds) - Try this yummy yummy almond banana coconut muffin.
Eggs - scrambled/egg bake/frittata/quiche/soufflé are a favorites around here.
Berries (blueberries) - Just eat them up plain, or top with whipped cream. Fredrik has recently discovered that freeze dried strawberries are a great snack. They are also part of this Strawberry Fluff.
Grass Fed Beef - Fredrik likes ground beef with a little marinara sauce, mild salsa, or creamy stroganoff sauce on it. Meatloaf is also easy for him eat. But a slow cooked roast, shredded or cut into chunks also works well as a meal all three of us enjoy.
Dark Chocolate (80%) - Make a chia pudding with cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Personally I just grab a couple squares of the Montezuma dark 100% chocolate, and top it with whatever nut butter I have in the fridge. It's a brain boosting Reese's.
Olive Oil - After listening to Max and and his guest Nicholas in this podcast, I definitely believe in buying a better quality olive oil now. As Nicholas says, just POUR the oil onto your food. Or make a sauce like pesto or chimichurri to eat with your grass fed bee.
Coffee - Drink it black, or with cream, with collagen, or bulletproof with coconut and MCT oil. Just please please please find a replacement for fake creamers that are made with processed oils and high fructose syrup.
Yummy Yummy gluten and dairy free, no sugar added muffins! Seriously...these taste good. Fredrik is a fan of grabbing big chunks and shoving them into his mouth. Ryan likes to toast and top his with peanut butter, but that's how eats all flavors of muffins. I like mine with a big smear of butter on top.
1.5 cups almond flour or almond meal
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
1 cup mashed banana (2 large) or mashed sweet potato
2 Tbs room temp butter or olive/avocado oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut. (or use raisins, chocolate chips, chopped pecans...)
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Prep muffin pan with either paper or silicone liners. I still give my silicone liners a little spritz of oil, just to prevent ANY sticking. It's probably overkill.
2. Combine the almond flour, flax seed meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a medium bowl.
3. In a blender, or a large bowl beat together eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla.
4. Stir/blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Then fold in the coconut.
5. Divide between the 12 muffin cups. Bake 20-30 minutes, until browned. (Mine needed about 23 minutes) Allow to cool completely before storing in a air tight container on your counter for a few days, or several months in a freezer.
1 muffin: 185 kcal, 15g fat, 9g carb, 3g fiber, 5g protein
I'm fascinated with blood sugar. Partly because I worked in a diabetes clinic for a couple years. As I have learned more about diet and nutrition my passion for helping people regulate their blood sugar has only grown stronger. Personally I also know that it's very important for me to keep my blood sugar steady all day long so I experience less anxiety (or racing thoughts), better moods, good energy, and less hunger. Recently I've started to really dial things in and have started following a ketogenic diet. While I don't recommend everyone do this, I do believe that many people would benefit from it some of the time. Wondering if you would benefit from a low(er) carb or ketogenic diet? If you start checking yes to any of these signs/symptoms the answer is most likely yes: PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, overweight, anxiety, ADHD, depression, bi-polar, cataracts, macular degeneration, acne, insomnia, constant hunger and/or cravings, fatigue, brain fog, chronic infections or always sick, high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, unexplained swelling or edema, heartburn/acid reflux, family or personal history of: Alzheimers, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrigs(ALS), M.S., arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes/pre-diabetes.
Hmmmm....so that's just about everyone.
Why are so many disease states related to blood sugar?
When we eat carbs/sugar our blood sugar goes up, and this triggers an insulin release by our pancreases. This is normal, when it happens 1-3x day, not all day, every day. Unfortunately most people continue to subscribe to the 4-6 small meals/day mentality or if they have not adopted a healthier eating style continue to drink sodas and eat candy (like gummi worms or fruit snacks) and other snack foods (chips, pretzels, trail mix) all day. This causes their body to continually have elevated blood sugars and insulin which over time is extremely inflammatory to EVERY cell in your body.
What do I mean by inflammation?
Think about a sprained ankle, the swelling and bruising are visible signs of inflammation, the pain is inflammation the can be felt. Inflammation also occurs in our blood vessels and until we experience chest pain, we don't feel it. Inflammation in the brain shows up as ADHD, anxiety, migraines, and down the road dementia. Inflammation of the skin may not always be felt, but it can be seen in the form of acne and rosacea or psoriasis and eczema. By lowering carbohydrate intake and allowing time between meals for blood sugar to actually come back down, people lower their inflammation, and reduce/eliminate their symptoms.
How many grams of carb do I need?
Most people probably only need 30-50g of carbohydrate per day.
Very active individuals and women who are breastfeeding may need 50-100g.
Very Very Very active people may need 100-200g.
And some people may eat only 30g most days, but increase and eat 100g 1-2x week or a couple times per month. Nutrition is highly individualized; what works for me, may not work for you.
Find out what your personal carb tolerance is by ordering yourself a glucometer and checking your blood sugar. If 1 hour after you eat, your blood sugar is >130 mg/dl, whatever you ate was too much carbohydrate/sugar for you. Or it was too much carb without enough protein and fat to help prevent a big sugar surge. If 2 hours after you eat, your blood sugar is still >100 mg/dl, whatever you ate was again too much carbohydrate/sugar. IE: Don't eat this food on the regular. I realize these numbers are different from what the ADA recommends, but their ranges are not tight enough to prevent/reverse blood sugar related inflammation and disease. Robb Wolf does a great job of explaining this in his book Wired To Eat as well as in his videos describing the 7 day carb tolerance test.
Now, go forth, eat real foods, decrease your blood sugar, and reduce your inflammation.
If you read my post on Foods 4 Focus, you know that iron and zinc are two important minerals for brain health, and many people/kids are deficient in them. But how to get them? Add anchovies! And I don't mean to your pizza. These briny, fatty, little fish are full of nutrients.
"A portion of five anchovy fillets (canned in oil and drained; about 20g) has 42 calories, 5.8g protein, 1.9g of fat, and no carbohydrates. Anchovies are an excellent source of calcium, iron, and zinc."
If you are scared of adding these tiny fish to your diet, but enjoy eating tuna, or salmon, or other canned fish try mashing them into a tuna salad; you'll never know they are there. Personally, I buy skipjack tuna since it is lower in mercury than albacore, or yellow fin. This 'recipe' could also be done with chicken or egg salad if you are not a fan of fish. The anchovies just add a little salty flavor.
1, 5oz can tuna, drained
1, 2oz can anchovies, drained
1 Tbs Mustard
1 Tbs lemon/lime juice or apple cider vinegar
1tsp dried dill
1/4 cup diced celery
2 small dill pickles diced
Ground Black pepper
1. Combine and mash all ingredients together in a medium bowl.
2. Serve on a bed of lettuce, wrap, sandwich, crackers, cucumber slices, whatever works for you and your family. Use fresh lemon/lime wedges or vinegar for extra moisture on your salad.
Want another delicious recipe using anchovies, try my crockpot Chicken Puttanesca.
For more info on anchovies, the difference between oil packed, and salt cured, check out Precision Nutrition's post.
I recently gave a short presentation with two of my co-workers discussing how food affect focus, mood, and cognition. There were some technical difficulties so parts of it cut in and out, but I've left you with the main bullet points and links to research from my portion.
1. Artificial foods = lower IQ. More specifically artificial colorings and preservatives. Those toaster strudels and carnation instant breakfast drinks I loved as a teen; complete neurotoxins. Everything they served in the ala-cart line in my high school cafeteria, complete junk and brain poison. No wonder so many kids are being diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities, our brains are fried from all the chemicals we feed them starting at breakfast.
2. You need adequate protein to make neurotransmitters for your brain. When we don’t eat enough protein, our DNA doesn’t have enough amino acids to sufficiently carry out this process. "If our cells are going to talk to one another, they need protein. If you don’t eat adequate protein at every meal, you can end up being anxious, depressed, hungry, and tired."
-Dr David Herber.
I would add irritable, irrational, unfocussed, and scatter to that list. The best, most absorbable, and bioavailable source of protein, and therefore amino acids is....meat, dairy, and eggs.
Sorry vegans, this is just how biology works.
"Meat is the single best source of protein. Fulfilling your protein requirements (60 – 90 grams or more for adults) with non-meat foods requires enormous planning and effort, more than most people can manage. You have to eat three cups of beans with 100 grams of carbs to equal the same amount of protein in 6 ounces of animal protein (that contain zero carbs).
Animal protein is our only source of vitamin B12, which is essential for life itself. It contains enzymes that we need to access nutrients, essential amino acids, and cancer-fighting antioxidants like vitamin A, which cannot be obtained directly from vegetables. Vegans often become deficient in B12, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D and more. Yes, plant foods contain many of these nutrients, but they are more bioavailable in meat."
-Dr. Mark Hyman, What the Heck Should I Eat
But you know who else also becomes deficient in these nutrients? Most kids. They start their day with bagels, toast, donuts, or nothing; and when they eat the school lunch most of what they get is CARBS! with very little protein. Dinner often doesn't look that great these days either. As families race from one activity to the next, I see a lot of fast food, pasta, and PB&J sandwiches on the menu.
3. Lack of Zinc, Iron, B12 can all lead to ADHD symptoms
B12 – Cobalamin, aka Vitamin B12 is a helper vitamin. It helps B9 produce red blood cells, and it helps iron produce hemoglobin for transporting oxygen in the blood.
If you are a Vegan, and even some vegetarians, and many picky kids who eat very little meat need to supplement. Typical doses are: 10 micrograms a day or 2000+ micrograms per week.
Zinc - Studies show it may help with hyperactivity and impulsiveness. But not as effective for inattentiveness. I recommend 20mg/Day for kids and up to 50+mg for adults as supplements.
Iron - Iron is also necessary for making dopamine. One small study1 showed ferritin levels (a measure of iron stores) to be low in 84 percent of children with ADHD compared to 18 percent of the control group. Low iron levels correlate with cognitive deficits and severe ADHD.
However, do not supplement unless you/your child has been diagnosed with a deficiency.
Want to get these nutrients from food? Then grab yourself some OYSTERS and LIVER! Or maybe just some beef and salmon. I love adding smoked oysters to a salad or eating them on a plantain chip/cracker. Braunschweiger is seriously one of my favorite foods. My grandma used to make us sandwiches on wonder bread with miracle whip and mustard. Not what I would recommend, but she didn't know what we know now. These days I simply slice and eat, top it with Hain Safflower Mayo, or even fry it in a little olive oil and eat for breakfast with eggs and greens.
4. Fish oil
Significant evidence across multiple studies show that...
How much to supplement with?
For younger kids up to about age 8, 1,000-1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA.
(If a product has 750 mg. of EPA and 500 mg of DHA, the total would be 1,250 mg.)
For older children, 2,000-2,500 milligrams.
However, I'm in the camp that when it comes to fish oil, more is often better. You'll want to talk with your health care professional to help you decide on the right dose.
While grabbing a hot drink from Lakewinds Co-op a couple weeks ago I noticed a new product on the counter. I asked the Barista what it was and if it was any good. Apparently it's a coconut butter product you add to coffee. She informed me that it was very tasty, and she really liked the vanilla but..."I'm not ready to give up sugar, so I can't use it".
I must have given her a quizzical look as she proceeded to tell me that it's for keto people and that since she still eats sugar she shouldn't use it. I responded, "do you think if you did use it, it might help with your sugar cravings?"
Barista, "Maybe, but I'm not ready to give up sugar."
As I left the counter I thought, "What you're really saying is I don't want to give up sugar." I was also reminded of the late Charles Poliquin who would have said that she is still prioritizing her taste buds over whatever physical change she wants to see by giving up sugar. To some extent I would agree. But I posed the scenario to two RD friends as well Ryan and here is what they all said.
My friend Katie of the Best You Plan would ask you, "What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of failing yet again...another diet?" She has seen this with many women. Just the mention of "giving up" a food, sugar or processed carbs in particular seems to elicit a look of terror in many of their eyes. While at a networking event, she had women refuse to take her business card after they learned what her program is about.
My friend Lucy from Well Balanced Nutrition would ask you, "What do you mean give up sugar? Are you a moderator being asked to abstain? Is this a temporary or permanent change you are trying to make? Why do you want to give it up, what is the benefit?"
My husband Ryan asked "what are you doing to be/get ready?"
So this coming year, before you make another I'm going to (lose weight, get healthy, exercise, give up _____) resolution maybe you need to ask yourself a few questions first:
1. What change do I want to make and WHY? If you're why isn't good enough, you will never be 'ready' and the changes will never stick. I have found that losing weight for the sake of weight loss is never a good enough why. Focusing on a health benefit such as less joint pain, or better digestion are typically better motivators.
2. Is this a change YOU WANT to make for YOU? Or is it something you think you SHOULD do, or feel guilted into doing? Shame is never a good motivator.
3. What is holding you back from starting now? Why have you waited?
4. What are you afraid of? Failure? Judgement? Struggling? Hunger? Being alone?
5. Are you making excuses and putting off making the change? Or is your reason for not starting valid? Excuse: it's the holiday season so it will be too hard. (Truth: there is always a holiday, birthday, vacation, or other event) Valid reason: Your parent just died, you just had a baby, your house flooded or burned down. (Truth: high stress times, especially when coupled with sleep deprivation are not the time to make a major change. Wait a few weeks or months until the clouds pass and you are sleeping to tackle your change.)
6. Who will support you vs Who will derail you? Are you willing to spend less time with those who will derail your efforts? I know many people who have given up friendships, cut ties with family, and gone through divorces in the name of health & happiness. It may seem extreme, but we only get one life, so why surround yourself with negative people. Also, the reason many people consciously or unconsciously sabotage other's efforts is because of their own fear and insecurity. "If they change, then I have to change... change is hard, and I'm scared of failing if they succeed. I'm not ready! I should buy them a box of their favorite cookies."
What are you willing/wanting/ready to change?
I'm a dietitian with a passion for good nutrition, bold flavors, playing in the dirt, and being with my family.