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). Braised cabbage is another great option for the whole family.
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 from...you guessed it Trader Joes, 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.
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.
It's not that I hate cookies, or the Girl Scouts; I was one for many years, and actually worked as a camp counselor for two summers. I also sold and ate plenty of Thin Mints, Samoas (caramel delights), and Tagalongs The real reason for this post was to highlight sugar and it's addictive nature. Some people will argue that sugar is not addictive in the same sense that tobacco, alcohol, or cocaine are addictive. However, after working with well over 1000 clients, I can tell you for many people, sugar has addictive properties. Have you noticed that Thin Mints don't actually taste that good? Seriously, if have some laying around go get one, sit down, close your eyes and eat it slowly. Hmmm...is that a faint taste of plastic? I bet you can't stop with just one. Soon that whole sleeve is gone, and you are left wanting more, but also feeling kinda awful with a weird coating in your mouth. That weird mouth feel, by the way, is from the processed vegetable oils. And that sleeve of cookies contains 10 tsp (3.33Tbs) of added sugar. What about another favorite cookie, the Somoa. As you can see from the picture, 2 cookies seem fine with only 2.75tsp of added sugar, but again....who eats just 2? Many people I know tell me they sit down and within a day or two eat up the entire box; which contains as much added sugar as a 20oz soda (19.25tsp).
FYI: The American Heart and American Diabetes associations recommend no more than 6-9 tsp of added sugar per day. Personally I think 9 is way too high; that's 3 Tbs.
Let's chat about another spring favorite, the Shamrock Shake. Recently someone told me about their daughter who they took out for lunch to McDonalds and decided to let them have a small Shamrock Shake (18.5tsp sugar). All afternoon and evening the little girl kept asking for treats. Mom has since made the connection that when her daughter eats something sugary, she craves sugar for the next 24hr. When she doesn't have it, she is fine with fruit for snacks and no treats.
Does this sound like you? Can you relate to feeling like all you do is think about sugar?
When we eat high carb/high sugar foods our brains spit out a bunch of serotonin and dopamine, and this makes us feel "good." This is the true sugar high. Sure some people get a burst of energy, but I have found that as my blood sugar passes about 150mg/dl I actually get very tired. This happens about 1hr after eating the offending food. By two hours when it's back to normal, I'm more alert, but I want to eat sugar, AGAIN!
What to do?
Some people are moderators and can eat a little sugary treat now and then and not be bothered by it. But many people cant. Some people need to abstain from sugar, and if that's you, that's ok. Sugar creates chronic inflammation in EVERY cell in the body. For some people it shows up as acne, for others joint/muscle pain, for others brain fog/ADHD and later on dementia, for others cancer. If you want to reduce your inflammation, reduce your risk of chronic diseases, and get rid of sugar cravings then maybe it's time to become an abstainer. Sound scary? What would happen if you tried it for 2 weeks or a month?
Ready to take the leap but want some support, come see me at Stepping Stone Clinic. Your life doesn't have to be run by cravings.
Being a dietitian and mom means I'm pretty passionate about poop. It's a daily conversation starter at home and work. Ryan was even inspired by a friend to build Fredrik's changing table. Starting out my intention was to use cloth diapers, but once again.... Since Fredrik's arrival we have tried several different types of diapers; here's our experiences and some info to go with it.
Disposable: You live, you learn, and then you dispose of more than 2700 diapers in the first year of a child's life. Whoa! that's a lot of diapers, and FYI, they don't decompose. But for many people Huggies, Pampers, luvs, and Costco are their go-to for diapers. We are currently using the Honest overnights because Fredrik kept leaking through his other diapers by early morning and waking himself (and us) up. So far we have been pretty happy with the results with only a couple leaks.
Benefits: Least expensive option. Available in every grocery store and drug store and even some gas stations. Only need to change about every 2-4 hours during the day.
Drawbacks: They don't decompose. There are many new natural/organic brands on the market and some boast that they use renewable resources. That's great, but if they are going in a plastic bag and heading to the dump, they will still take an extremely long time to break down. The chemicals and plastics used in typical disposable diapers may cause skin irritation for some babies.
Compostable: We currently use the Naty Compostable diapers through a local diaper service called Do Good Diapers. Once a week they drop off 2 packages of diapers and a compostable garbage bag. At the sametime they pickup the used diapers and compost them at a local facility. So far we have really liked the Naty brand. No poop blow outs! Unlike a few of the other "natural brands" we tried, these seem to be very absorbent. If you don't have a diaper service in your town, you can do a diaper subscription through Naty, but realize they do not pick up the used ones, so they are still going to your local dump.
Benefits: They decompose! Need to change about every 2-4 hours during the day.
Drawbacks: More expensive than disposable and they still use more resources than choosing cloth. Some brands are not as absorbent or do not fit as well as typical disposable diapers.
Cloth: We tried pre-folds when Fredrik was about 4-6wk old through Do Good. Unfortunately they were not absorbent enough for him, and he would fuss the minute they got wet. I literally changed a diaper every 20 minutes for 2 hours one day. Needless to say, after those 2hr were up, we went back to disposable. Thankfully, Do Good also offers Gro Via diapers which are a hybrid cloth diaper with shells and snap in soaker pads that do not require any folding. It took a little trial & error to get the perfect fit to prevent leaks, but once we did they were a great option.
Unfortunately, our day care provider requires us to send a clean insert and shell for every diaper change, which they then send home individually wrapped in a plastic bag. This was just going to be a hassle bringing bottles and 5+ diapers to and from daycare each day; which then have to be unwrapped each night. (Some people would be happy to do this, I'm just not one of them.) This is why we started with the Naty's. If I was willing to wash the cloth diapers I think we would have invested in our own Gro Via or other cloth diapers, but I really don't want to do a load of laundry every day. Since they are an investment, I would recommend buying second hand or finding a friend who has cloth diapered and try them out first. You may find you like one style (pre-fold vs. hybrid vs. all-in-one) and not another. There are many facebook groups where you can buy used shells and inserts and ask lots of questions.
Benefits: Most Eco friendly. After the initial investment, much MUCH less expensive in the long run. Especially if you have multiple children. Hard to smell poop through all that fluff.
Drawbacks: If you don't use a diaper service you will end up washing diapers daily or every other day. They are bulkier than disposable/compostable so your baby will be wearing pants and sometimes onesies that are months ahead of their actual age. Although there are people on Etsy who make pants to fit over their giant bums. They take a bit of trial and error to find the right fit, and you may have to get creative with layering soaker pads at night to prevent multiple diaper changes. Need to change more often, every 1-4 hours during the day depending on naps.
Inspired by 2-3 recipes from the Primal Cravings cookbook. This recipe is similar to a tamale pie, but with cajun flavors and a grain free biscuit topping. It could be made keto with a different topping recipe such as these, as well as omitting the carrots from the mirepoix. Need it to be vegetarian? Replace the turkey with a combination of canned beans, rice, and meat crumbles. ENJOY!!
1 Tbs Butter/Lard/Coconut oil
1 container Mirepoix from Trader Joe (or diced onion, carrot, celery)
1.5-2# ground turkey
1 cup diced tomatoes or salsa
3 Tbs Penzey's Cajun seasoning
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs Hot sauce (optional)
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh, minced
1 Tbs Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the topping:
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup arrow root or tapioca starch
2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 cup butter at room temp
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water or broth
4-8oz shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350
2. In a large dutch oven or skillet, melt your fat of choice and sauté the mirepoix.
3. Add the ground turkey and continue to cook until it is browned and crumbly.
4. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer 5-10 minutes until thickened. Set aside.
5. In a medium to large bowl, combine the dry biscuit ingredients.
6. cut the butter in using a fork.
7. Stir in the egg and water.
8. Spoon the biscuit batter over the filling and spread it out to cover the dish.
** Cheddar cheese can be mixed into batter or sprinkled over the top.
8. Bake until golden brown and bubbly. About 30 minutes.
Calories: 430, Total Carb: 21g, Net Carb: 15g, Fat: 23g Protein: 32g
For the past several years Ryan has planned a fishing trip up on Lake of the Woods for him and 2-3 friends. Despite having a 5mo old I told him to cary on with his usual plans, it's good to get away and de-stress! So what does one eat while trapped in an ice house for 3 days? I'm not saying that what these guys eat for 3 days is "healthy," but compared to what other folks bring, I think they are doing pretty good. No frozen Jacks pizza for these guys! After doing this for several years we have come up with a fairly standard menu, and do all the cooking/prep ahead time to keep things simple and easy for them.
Here's the menu
Breakfasts: Eggbeaters (don't need to worry about breaking or freezing) + sausage or bacon
Lunch: Ham or turkey or PB&J sandwiches
Snacks: Goldfish crackers, trail mix, beef jerky. I also make a batch of cookies each year and put them in individual bags for each guy. In the past I have made Paula Deen's PB monster cookies. They are super tasty. This year I made a batch of plain chocolate chip cookies.
Drinks: Coffee, Zevia, Bottled water, beer (lots of beer)
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.
Seems like everyone has their own protein ball recipe so I figured I should too. Ryan likes to pop 2-3 of them in his mouth after a workout and eat while he's showering. As a pregnant, and now breastfeeding mom, I've found they come in handy at 2am when hunger strikes. Yes, you can eat them straight from the freezer.
Even though I make these with sunflower seed butter, you can absolutely use peanut butter, soy nut butter, macadamia butter... whatever you have on hand and works for your family. However, depending upon the type/brand of nut butter and protein powder you use, you will probably need to make adjustments to their quantities due to different oil content and absorbency of the protein powder. The mixture will be a bit crumbly, but will stick together when you pack it into balls. Sorry it's not an exact recipe, I've just learned what the approximate consistency needs to be.
At the end of the batch I often end up adding another 2+ Tbs of nut butter to get the leftover cereal and coconut stuck together.
If you want to make these even lower in carbs, replace the cereal with more shredded coconut and chopped nuts/seeds.
1 cup Nut butter (I use TJ unsweetened sunflower seed butter)
1 cup rice crispy cereal
1 cup protein powder (I use Olly Vanilla plant protein, but have used whey in the past)
1/2-1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut or instant oat meal
2-3 Tbs melted coconut oil
1+ Tbs honey/maple syrup/sukrin
Other add ins: Raisins, Craisins, Chocolate chips, White Chocolate Chips, M&M, candied ginger, chopped nuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, freeze dried raspberries.
Coatings: Cocoa powder, almond flour, coconut flour, more protein powder (Used to coat balls after rolling)
Combine ingredients in a big bowl.
Portion out 1-2Tbs and roll into balls.
Place balls in a gallon ziplock bag with coating of choice.
Once all the balls are rolled out, close the bag and gently move it around until the protein balls are coated. (Keeps them from sticking together. Store in the freezer.)
I'm a dietitian with a passion for good nutrition, bold flavors, playing in the dirt, and being with my family.