Debilitating brain diseases are on the rise, from ADHD and autism in the younger progeny to Dementia, multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s in the older generation. Even middle aged individuals are prone to age old diseases before their time. A paradigm shifting medical revolution, led by Dr Perlmutter, has unearthed evidence that the health of our brains is largely ruled by the health of our gut. What’s going on in our gut today defines what will happen to our brains tomorrow. A healthy digestive system paves way for a sharper brain. Those who eat smart brain foods, work smart.
Contrary to the common belief, our body has two nervous systems- the central nervous system, comprised of the spinal cord and brain, and the enteric nervous system which is ruled by the gastrointestinal system. Perlmutter says that our gut is a second brain and our happiness depends upon its health.
Our gut is colonized by trillions of microbes with whom we live symbiotically; a striking ratio of 10:1 of our cells. Microbes are developed in the human body by birth and are mostly ingested through breast feeding. How they evolve is dependent on our dietary choices. Providing a suitable environment to let the microbes flourish is essential for fundamental processes in the body, including cognitive abilities, production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, immunity and expression of DNA.
In-depth exploration of our body’s micro biome reveals correlation between them and an array of brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Celiac disease, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, depression, anxiety and many others. Our diet and lifestyle have a profound effect on the development of micro biome and will affect our health. 90% of our DNA is contained inside the gut probiotics microbes and thus they determine the health of our mind and body.
Healthy gut bacteria are fostered by a balanced diet, active lifestyle and breast feeding and are easily destroyed by a Vitamin B12 deficiency, chlorinated water, antibiotics and junk food. Our brain thrives on the health of gut bacteria. Here’s a list of brain foods that you can incorporate in your daily meal to nurture a healthy microbe colony:
BRAIN FOODS RICH IN PROBIOTICS
Active culture yogurt is the best way to ingest plenty of enzymes and probiotics in your body. However, when purchasing yogurt, care has to be taken that the yogurt is pure and free from artificial sweeteners, flavors and sugar. Be sure to check your brand’s label before you buy a carton.
The word kefir has its roots in the Turkish word “Keyik” which signifies a good feeling after consumption. Kefir is an amalgamation of goat milk, rich in bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, and kefir grains, which are prepared from yeast and bacteria. For the lactose intolerant individuals, coconut kefir is a non dairy alternative of consuming antioxidants.
The centuries old brewed black or green tea has come to light for its weight reduction properties and should be added to diet. Polyphenols, included in tea, induce a feeling of positive wellbeing.
Fermented soya is called Tempeh and is a great alternative for vegetarians to fulfill their protein and amino acid requirement. Tempeh is also a rich source of Vitamin B12.
You can create lacto fermented condiments such as mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing, guacamole, hot sauce, horse radish chutney, fruit chutney and Salsa. Certain fermented products lose the probiotics content during processing but it can be re-added later.
Pickling brings out the best in fruits and vegetables. Unpasteurized foods pickled in brine are rich in probiotics content. When purchasing counter based pickles, read the labels to make sure they are not cured in vinegar.
Broccoli is a brain maker food since it is a rich source of Vitamin K which strengthens cognitive abilities and “choline” which aids memory. The folic acid found in Broccoli prevents depression and delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sauerkraut means “sour cabbage” in German. This fermented cabbage helps nourish the healthy gut bacteria and is a rich source of choline, which is needed for the healthy transmission of nervous impulses in our nervous system.
Fermented meat and Poultry
Aim to make fermented meat, fish and eggs a part of your daily diet.
BRAIN FOODS RICH IN PRE-BIOTICS
Chicory Root and Raw Leeks
When consumed raw, they are an excellent antioxidant source which helps to wipe out the toxins and free radicals.
Garlic is a blessing for the body. In addition to the innumerable benefits of garlic, when eaten raw it provides a punch of probiotics.
Acacia Gum is packed with probiotics fiber which is highly favorable for the gut bacteria. Just a tablespoon of Acacia gum powder supplies the body with 6 g of insoluble fiber.
Dandelion Greens and Asparagus
Raw greens are a great source of probiotics. Buy a weekly supply of these greens in your grocery and toss them in salads or meals. You can also eat fermented asparagus with your meals.
Eaten raw or cooked, onions are miraculously rich in Probiotics.
Jerusalem artichokes, besides being rich in probiotics, are packed with Iron and potassium. Enjoy them in salads.
GLUTEN FREE BRAIN FOODS
Coconut oil, almond milk, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconuts, nuts, Flax seeds, Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, cheese, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, ghee, nut butter and avocados are all included in healthy fats.
Eggs, Fowl, poultry, shellfish, wild fish such as mahi mahi, trout, herring, salmon, grouper, black cod, sardines, liver, chicken, turkey, veal, duck, lamb, bison, beef, ostrich, lobsters, crabs and mollusks.
Lettuce, Kale, Cabbage, horse radish, Collard, spinach, onions, cauliflower, chard, mushrooms, turnip, watercress, mushrooms, asparagus, celery, shallots, Jimica, Brussels sprouts, ginger, leek, beans, radishes and parsley.
Fruits which are low in sugar should be a part of our daily diet. These include lime, cucumber, pumpkin, lemon, squash, bell peppers, avocado and eggplants.
Condiments and Seasonings
You can go wild with seasonings and condiments as long as they are free of soy, gluten, sugar and wheat such that mustard and salsa.
Glutton Free Products
In addition to the above, these food products can be consumed in moderation such as yogurt, kefir, blue berries, carrots, parsnips, beans, lentils, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and rice. Red wine, which is rich in Polyphenols, is good for a healthy gut and can be consumed up to one glass a day.
In addition to an alteration in dietary habits, keeping yourself well hydrated is indispensable to gut health. To protect the micro biome colony, cultivating in your gut, avoid drinking tap water as it often contains chlorine. Chlorinated water is detrimental to microbe environment and therefore you should switch to mineral or filtered water.
CURB THE USE OF ANTIBIOTICS
We run towards the neighborhood clinics for the smallest of infirmity such as common cold and fever and are administered with a dose of broad spectrum antibiotics. Being broad spectrum they wipe out the good gut bacteria along with the bad one.
The gut microbes protect the lining of the gut and reduce permeability. This in turn reduces the risk of inflammation in our bodies. Over use of antibiotics and environmental toxins alters the microbes and damages the integrity of the gut lining. Inflammation is the culprit underlying major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, diabetes and cancer. Understanding the need to protect the gut bacteria and the pivotal role it plays in our health, would go a long way in the cure of devastating neurological diseases.
INCORPORATE A MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Mediterranean diet is mainly composed of seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and olive oil; foods that ward off diabolical diseases such as diabetes, coronary diseases, cancer and cognitive decline. A strong adherence to an anti inflammatory Mediterranean diet is linked to increased cognitive function, lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slowed decaying of the brain functionalities. Making the switch from the sumptuous and addictive junk food to a healthier alternative might take a little effort but is all the difference between life and death!
The importance of the gut-brain relationship is giving birth to striking experimentation. A growing body of evidence links the Mediterranean diet, rich in antioxidants, like berries and fruits, to improved brain functions. Free radicals wreak havoc on our brain and the antioxidants found in these food groups helps to combat them and also prevent neurodegeneration and ageing of brain. In addition, cutting back on sugars, fried foods, red meat and carbohydrates plays an important role in maintaining the gut brain health.
Consuming olive oil and nuts contribute to brain health since they contain Polyphenols. Polyphenols prevent oxidation and inflammation, both of which are detrimental to blood vessels in the brain. Our brain is an oxygen hungry organ and clogged blood vessels eventually lead to destruction of brain cells. Polyphenols are also found in plant based brain foods such as berries, tea and spices like curcuma.
MEDITERRANEAN DIET FOR BEGINNERS
Mediterranean diet is rich in brain foods. If you are new to a Mediterranean diet, here are a few tips for you to get started:
- Stock up on vegetables: Veggies are the ultimate brain foods. be it a simple salad of cherry tomatoes tossed in olive oil and feta cheese, or a vegetable pizza loaded with fresh greens instead of destructive pepperoni and sausage, vegetable soups or simply veggie sides with your favorite meal at a restaurant.
- Cut back on meat: if you are meat lover, it’s time to reconsider your dietary choices. If you must eat, try reducing proportions and switch to leaner cuts. One way to incorporate meat in a healthy dish is to add chunks of chicken or fish to a leafy salad for added taste.
- Never Skip on Breakfast: one of the worst mistakes of people is to skip breakfast when pressed for time. Eat fruits, breakfast cereals, whole grain wheat or fiber rich foods to kick start the day in a healthy way. It will also induce fullness for long and curb calorie craving.
- Eat more Seafood: omega 3 fatty acids rich sea foods such as fish, shell fish, tuna, herring, salmon, sardines and oysters are to be consumed at least twice a week. One way to put up a delectable hearty meal is to grill fish with olive oil with a serving of green beans on the sides.
- Eat Good fats: Good fats such as olive oil, nuts, olives, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and avocados are excellent for maintaining the gut health. Sunflower, soybean and corn oil are also a source of polysaturated fats.
- Go Dairy: Try to incorporate brain foods such as yogurt, Greek yogurt, cheese and milk as part of your daily diet. Make sure you only choose the low fat dairy products from the counter.
- Less Dessert, More Fruits: To placate that occasional sweet tooth, forget high carb dessert and instead opt for fresh fruits. You can also cut fruits in low fat yogurt and make your own flavored yogurt at home.
7 DAY SAMPLE MEAL PLAN FOR MEDITERRANEAN DIET
BREAKFAST: Pancakes served with fresh fruits and berries OR yogurt mixed with nuts and honey
LUNCH: Chickpea salad tossed with olive oil, pignolia nuts, vinegar, romaine lettuce, black olives, green pepper and onion.
SNACK: Vegetable with pasteurized sour cream dip
DINNER: Baked chicken with olives and spinach on the side.
BREAKFAST: 1 slice of whole grain bread with a slice of cheese OR spinach and olive omelet
LUNCH: whole wheat pita bread with hummus and mixed salad OR turkey sandwich with eggplant and roasted red pepper.
SNACK: Carrots dipped in hummus
DINNER: Grilled salmon with green beans, sweet potato chips and super pesto. Eat fresh fruit for dessert.
BREAKFAST: Low fat granola bars layered with light yogurt and a cup of fresh raspberries
LUNCH: Minestrone’s Soup with 1 slice of who grain bread and goat’s cheese.
SNACK: Banana with peanut butter
DINNER: Grilled white fish served with fennel puree and grilled tomatoes. Make a salad of cherry tomatoes and feta cheese. A serving of fresh fruit for dessert.
BREAKFAST: fluffy Pancake Day again. Serve with fresh milk and berries. Top with maple syrup.
LUNCH: Olive and tuna salad
SNACK: Rye crackers with cheese spread
DINNER: Mozzarella cheese, tomato and chickpea salad. Fresh fruit for dessert.
BREAKFAST: Cereal with fruits and soy nuts
LUNCH: Hummus with fresh vegetable.
SNACK: Crackers with a sweet dip or left over hummus from lunch
DINNER: Salmon stuffed with spinach and feta or breaded shrimp with diced tomatoes.
BREAKFAST: yogurt mixed with high fiber cereal like raisin bran or cheerios, topped with chopped walnuts.
LUNCH: vegetarian pita sandwich with a dip of Greek yogurt and cucumber
SNACK: tortilla chips with guacamole dip
DINNER: pan fried scallops with lentils and red wine OR grilled chicken and artichoke pizza. Enjoy fresh fruit for dessert.
BREAKFAST: poached peaches served with green yogurt and pistachios
LUNCH: Grilled Mackerel with vegetables and olives OR grape leaves stuffed with walnuts
SNACK: Pineapple smoothie with fat free yogurt.
DINNER: Grilled chicken with a rocket, avocado and parmesan salad.
MEDITERRANEAN DIET FOR THE GUT
Out Diet has a great influence on our gut microbia. A mixture of beneficial fatty acid profile, a high antioxidant intake, focus on poly and monosaturated fatty acids, and presence of high fiber low glycemic index food substances are characteristics of this diet. Since we have established a direct link between gut and brain health, let’s see how a Mediterranean dietary style, rich in brain foods, is good for the gut:
Carbohydrate and digestion: The cumbersome nature of carbohydrates is a nuisance which is the leading cause of obesity in the world. Our body is not adapted to digesting high intake of polysaccharide molecules. By cutting back on carbohydrate rich food, you are more prone to maintaining a healthy weight and gut microbia health.
Increased Fiber consumption: Decreasing sugar and cholesterol absorption in the gut, the production of photochemical and other bioactive compounds, as well as anti-inflammatory properties have been proposed as processes involved in the healthy properties of fiber. Fermentation of fiber by the colony of gut microbes releases phenolic compounds which have anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties.
Excellent source of antioxidants: Mediterranean diet comprises of fresh fruits which are rich in antioxidants. A research has proven that eating fresh fruits greatly increases the accumulation of Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, both of both are associated with maintaining gut health.
Fat Restricted diet: In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, a diet rich in fat nurtures a healthy environment for the growth of Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. A high fat diet is also linked to increased risk of obesity related gut wall permeability and thus inflammation. There is in fact reason to believe that a diet limited in fat indeed