Can you eat your way to a better brain?

Can you eat your way to a better brain?

I often talk about the connection between the body and the mind, but what about the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is the happy hybrid of two other great diets – the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. As you might have guessed, the MIND diet is heavy on vegetables and wholefoods, but it does go further to emphasise specific brain-healthy foods groups.

So far the evidence points to it assisting in slowing down age related negative effects on brain health.  This is particularly important given dementia is the second leading cause of death of women in Australia (behind heart disease).  While dementia is often thought of as a memory disorder, it’s more accurate to define it as a fatal brain failure – a terminal disease that can cause physical death.

In research studies, those who closely followed the diet had a 53% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a brain age 7.5 years younger than those who didn’t follow the principles.  Even those moderately following the diet benefited with a 35% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk compared with those who followed it loosely or not at all.

So what should you be eating??

Eat a rainbow across the week

No, this doesn’t mean you should only eat red things on Monday, yellow things on Wednesday, blue things on Friday and violet things on Sunday!

A central aspect of the MIND diet is its emphasis on a variety of healthy foods, as well as overall diet quality, rather than overly focusing on individual nutrients.  Aim for a wide variety of foods that includes colourful fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as different types of wholegrain cereals, protein and plant-based oils.  If you’re comfortable with the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet is just a few small inclusions away!

Green means go!

As always, green leafy vegetables are the superstars because they are nutritional goldmines. High in healthy-brain nutrients such as folate and flavonoids, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, eating several serves per day can slow your cognitive decline by as much as 11 years when compared to those who eat very little.

Berry nice…

If you want to really nourish your brain, berries – especially blueberries – are your low sugar, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory winners.  Blueberries in particular are rich in polyphenols, plant compounds linked with beneficial changes for ageing.  Fresh or frozen makes no difference – aim to have a serve each day.  If blueberries are not an option for you, then plums, prunes, blackcurrants and black grapes (noticing a pattern here?) are also high in polyphenols.

Something fishy?

The fats you eat can affect brain health, given your brain is approximately 60% fat!  Eating daily serves of healthy fats, such as omega-3s found in oily fish, can help to limit inflammation and oxidation.  These are vital aspects of brain protection given oxidation plays a significant part in age-related cognitive decline.

Over two decades of research points out that Omega-3s (especially DHA) may help delay cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. Eating more fish helped in slowing down age-related memory decline with even one fish meal per week lower dementia risk, however eating fish 2-3 times per week showed even better risk reduction.

Not all fish are created equal though – the best for your brain are the ones with the highest amounts of omega-3 fats.  Aim to eat sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, trout, tuna and calamari.

Vegetarians or vegans aren’t left out either, as linseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are valuable plant sources of omega-3 fats.

What else is different?

The MIND diet focuses heavily on a variety of vegetables, nuts, beans, wholegrains, poultry, olive oil and red wine (in moderation!) because of the valuable nutrients in each of them.

It’s all about balance…

While foods that nourish the brain have beneficial effects, some foods can have the opposite effect when eaten too often.   Treats can be part of your life, but they shouldn’t be the core of your diet!

A diet high in processed foods (such as biscuits, snack foods, sweets, fried foods and processed meats) and even obesity appear to be a contributing factors to the development of age-related mental impairment.  While the mechanism behind the link is still largely unknown, future research will likely focus on the impact of insulin resistance, imbalanced gut bacteria and inflammation.

If you’re already following eating patterns that minimise heart disease risk, these may also protect against dementia development, especially Alzheimer’s disease.  A good rule of thumb is if it’s good for your heart, there’s a good chance it will be good for your brain!

 

Ready to start?

Want a taste of what you could be enjoying on the MIND diet?  Try these out!

 

  • Breakfast booster (GF) – Mix 2tbs seeds, ½ tsp cinnamon, 2tbs chopped walnuts and ½ cup blueberries. Add to morning yoghurt or porridge or yoghurt for flavour and brain boost.

 

  • Dried fruit and seed balls (GF, WF, DF, Veg/Vegan) – In a food processor mix ingredients until mixture starts to come together. Roll into balls, then roll in desiccated coconut to coat.  These high-fibre treats will help satisfy your chocolate cravings and are made with anti-inflammatory ingredients.
    • Date & ginger – 1 cup macadamia nuts, 1-2cm fresh ginger, ½ cup dates, ½ dried figs, ¼ cup cacao, ½ cup linseeds
    • Prune & almond – 1 cup soft pitted prunes, 1 cup almonds, ¼ cup cacao, ¼ cup goji berries, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ cup sesame seeds.

 

  • Warm rainbow salad – This nutritionally fulfilling and colourful Mediterranean salad lets you swap ingredients according to taste or sensitivities. Toss together 2 potatoes (steamed & cubed), 1 can beans (cannellini, borlotti or butter beans), 2 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach or rocket or even wild greens, if your garden has them!), 1 cup each of red and green salad vegetables (cherry tomatoes halved, red capsicum and red onion; sliced fennel and cucumber), some protein (1 tin mackerel in olive oil or 2 boiled eggs), ¼ cup black olives, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, large handful of chopped fresh herbs (dill, coriander or flat-leaf parsley), 30-50g goat’s or sheep’s feta, crumbled.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and apple cider or wine vinegar.
5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

Life is busy. Time is short. How are we supposed to look after ourselves when we’re looking after everyone else?

Everyone knows I have five basic rules to good health, but how can you incorporate them into your life?

Here are five ways to include positive steps into your life without thinking too much about it.

1. Eat Mindfully

This means paying active attention to your food with all five senses and noticing everything about it, before you even take your first bite! To start with, don’t eat while watching TV or reading as your attention is focused on something else. It will help you feel fuller and more satisfied with your meal earlier than when paying attention to something else, potentially stopping the urge to binge or consume excess food without even noticing.

2. Introduce Incidental Exercise

While not everyone can get off a stop early from the bus or train, take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk down to the corner shop instead of being tempted to drive, there are ways to include additional exercise in your day. It’s recommended that we exercise for at least half an hour every day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. Doing small chunks of exercise might be easier and has been found to be just as beneficial to health.

3. Go On A Tech Fast

Taking temporary a time out from social media and constant availability to everyone via your mobile phone can help you slow down and relax. You can stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, give work a break (except when you’re at work, of course!) and be more mindfully  present with your family or loved ones.

4. Give Up Sugar

Just for a little while! Ok, so everyone is doing is and you’re probably sick of your neighbour/colleague/friend from school/sister-in-law telling you how sugar is bad and fruit causes all kinds of problems.  In all honestly, there’s likely no nutritionist who will tell you that free sugar (the extra that is added to drinks, coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits and sweets) is necessary for your health. Giving it up for a few weeks can help your skin and help you make better food choices.  If you quit for at least three weeks (ideally two months), you’ll help reset your sense of taste and need less of it in the future to reach the same level of satiety – win, win!

5. Set An Alarm

A regular bedtime can help you create strong and healthy sleep patterns.  Sleep is your scheduled maintenance and downtime – it’s absolutely essential for physical and mental health!  It’s too easy to lose track of time in the evenings and before you know it it’s nearly midnight (or later!). Why not set an alarm for sleep time, just like you do for wake time?

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.

What exactly is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which may exclude or minimize animal products, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The aim is to also exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.

Be inspired by the delicious foods you can enjoy!  Many of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes and burrito bases.

  • Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc
  • Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans
  • Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals
  • Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.

Iodized salt may be added to your food as it is a great source of iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, although excessive sodium intake should be avoided.

The basis of a plant-based diet

Starch-based foods and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. Leafy greens play an important part in the diet as they are very nutritious, but they are low in calories and may not provide enough calories, resulting in decreased energy levels and leave you feeling hungry.  When combined with starch-based foods (such as corn, peas, potatoes, etc) however, they provide fantastic all-round nourishment and keep the energy pumping.

The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, but rather s a package of the foods that you enjoy, which contain all the essential nutrients to be of enormous benefit to your general health.

Health benefits of a plant based diet

  • A plant-based diet often lowers blood pressure because of the potassium- rich legumes and nuts
  • Plants contain no cholesterol (although some is required for hormone production, too much can be detrimental to your health)
  • The fibre in plants helps control high blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream
  • A low fat, plant-based diet significantly lowers your risk of developing a variety of cancers
  • Weight management is easier when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fibre, take in natural vitamins and minerals, while avoiding animal fats and sugary, floury foods
  • Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with mono-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocados and olive oil) substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease
  • Sugary and fatty foods contribute to systemic inflammation and can lead to other problems like constipation. The fibre in a plant based diet will also help keep your colon healthy.

The best way to start a plant-based diet

Changing to a vegetarian or almost vegan-type diet is not always easy, especially if you have not been a healthy eater in the pasts. Whether you want to embrace a fully plant-based diet, or perhaps keep some animal products as part of your diet is a decision that only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing your meat intake, and following a plant diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.

If you are finding it difficult to immediately flip over to a new diet, here are some tips to help you on the way.

  • Begin with including legumes in your regular diet, as they are generally feel-good foods, will make you feel full and give you energy
  • You can also substitute one or two refined items with a plant-based food in a meal each day
  • Gradually exclude red meat from your diet.
  • If retaining chicken and fish in your diet, make sure that the chicken is skinless and opt for healthy fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel for maximum omega 3 content.
  • Try replacing one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegetarian meal.

Backed by science

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Cardiac disease is rated as the biggest single cause of death in first world nations, mainly due to poor lifestyle habits and unhealthy diets.  Embracing a healthy diet can help lower your risk of a future heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

 

Spotlight on: Moringa

Spotlight on: Moringa

Have you heard of Moringa before?  I’ve had a few patients bring it up recently and thought I’d share a little information about it.

Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is also known as the Ben Oil Tree, Drumstick Tree, or Indian Horseradish. It is a fast growing tree typically cultivated in India, tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America, yielding long seed pods that resemble drumsticks, hence the name Drumstick Tree.

Moringa has long been used in eastern medicine to treat many ailments such as low energy, adrenal fatigue and helps to naturally support the liver. As a dietary supplement, moringa is high in protein, Vitamins A, B and C and contains minerals such as calcium and iron.

It is also rich in flavonoids, a class of compounds found in plants that contribute to essential plant functions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Moringa products have antibiotic, antitrypanosomal, hypotensive, antispasmodic, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, hypo-cholesterolemic, and hypoglycemic properties”. In essence, this makes moringa a wonderful food addition that is nutritious and medicinal.

Moringa is particularly mentioned in Ayurvedic treatments as the most nutritious tree in India. In traditional Indian Ayurvedic treatments, moringa is used as a natural and safe detox, often used as a regular tonic of the body. Apart from wellness from within, moringa leaves and barks can be processed into a balm for external application, alleviating joint pains and rheumatism as the plant has a mild analgesic effect.

In western herbal medicine, moringa products come in various forms, with the most convenient and widely-available form being powder ground from dried leaves or taken as a supplement in pill form.

Some of the health benefits of moringa include:

  1. Nutrient-packed – vitamins A, C, and E; calcium; potassium; and protein.
  2. Reduces free radicals, molecules that cause oxidative stress and cell damage
  3. Reduces inflammation – helping to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes II, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and obesity
  4. Reduces diabetes symptoms – reducing lipid and glucose levels
  5. Cardioprotective – prevents plaque formation and reduces cholesterol levels
  6. Hepatoprotective – with high concentrations of polyphenols in the liver
  7. Antimicrobial and antibacterial properties to fight infections

The best way to take moringa depends of what suits your needs and lifestyle best.

In Tablet Form

Due to different manufacturing styles and ways to process the plant, the dosage can be varied. Always check the label for recommended dosage given they have different concentration of active ingredients. Most manufacturers will prepare their formula for easy dosage of a single tablet per day.

In Powder Form

Moringa leaf powder is typically sold in packets or jars. For the most effective health benefits, it’s best taken raw, as heat may destroy some of the useful and healthful compounds. The general suggestion is to start off slow and add more powder day by day. Start off with a quarter teaspoon added to your smoothies, iced tea, water or sprinkled on your breakfast such as yoghurt or overnight chia pudding and slowly build up to 1 tablespoons a day.

Seeds and Leaves

You might come across roasted whole Moringa seeds or even whole leaves. These are usually hard to come by so if you want to use these, it’s best to check your local health food store, Asian markets or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. The seeds are typically bitter and astringent though; how much you use will depend on personal taste. To use Moringa seeds, remove the shell and chew five to ten seeds a day if possible, or grind them into powder and sprinkle on your food.

When it comes to cooking moringa leaves and seeds, the spices used in Indian cooking, such as cumin and turmeric, complement the anti-inflammatory effect of moringa. If eaten raw, start off with a quarter cup of leaves per day, and build up to half cup a day.

Summary

No matter how you choose to have your moringa for its therapeutic effect the key is moderation and consuming it in line with you and your body. For some that means being able to handle more at first, for you it might be to only take a quarter of the recommended dosage.

It’s important to remember that moringa is ultimately not medication, but a nutrient-rich food that supports a healthy diet and lifestyle. It’s not meant to be a food that gives you everything you need or a cure for all your ailments.

If you are pregnant, never consume moringa tree bark or root as it could cause early labour or uterine contractions. If you are menstruating, it may cause excessive bleeding.

As always, consult your healthcare professional before incorporating moringa into your daily diet.

Breakfast for Busy Women – Why It’s Important Not to Skip

Breakfast for Busy Women – Why It’s Important Not to Skip

The alarm goes off and you are rushing around preparing for a busy day ahead.  Whether you have children to get ready for school or papers to read for a morning meeting, by the time you’ve watched the news, brushed your teeth and sorted your make-up, you are already exhausted – sound familiar?

It’s no wonder so many busy women end up skipping breakfast and just grabbing an expensive coffee which is drunk in the car on the way, but there are many reasons why this habit is bad for our health.

Breakfast Provides Many Benefits to Our Health and Wellbeing

When you wake up in the morning, your body has had no fuel since your evening meal the night before – potentially 12 hours beforehand. Think about the words – “break” & “fast” – literally the meal which breaks the fast you have been on while sleeping. You need the energy to kick-start your system and get your body ready for the day ahead.

According to nutritionists, a healthy breakfast should give you around 30% of your daily calorie requirements. It should provide you with energy, protein, calcium, iron, fibre and B vitamins which are all needed to get you through the day. If your body doesn’t receive these first thing, studies have shown your body is less effective at taking them on during the rest of the day.

 How Eating Breakfast Helps You Lose Weight

If you skip breakfast you are not providing your body with what it needs for energy – you will soon feel hungry and are more likely to then reach for high sugar, high fat snacks to compensate. People who skip breakfast tend to end up reaching for the snacks around 10am which doesn’t help if you are trying to lose weight.

Ideally, breakfast needs to be eaten between 45 minutes and two hours of waking up. This timing gives you the chance to put the needed fuel into your body to make sure your metabolism is balanced throughout the day. It is also the premium time for your body to absorb any of the carbohydrates you consume, which helps balance out your insulin levels. All of these aspects mean breakfast really sets your body up for the day and can help curb those mid-morning sugar cravings.

A recent study published in Obesity showed that people who not only ate breakfast, but made it their largest meal, lost almost 8kg over a three month period. The other people who took part in the study ate the same calories during the day, but most of these for their evening meal, lost only around 3kg.

Other Health Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

Breakfast brings a large number of health benefits, besides weight loss – providing more reasons why it really is important not to skip this particular meal.

  • Brain Function – Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast do better at school as they are better able to concentrate and improve their behaviour. Breakfast helps to establish good levels of glucose which are necessary for brain function. This helps to improve memory, concentration and mood and also lowers stress levels. We all know that feeling of increased irritability that rises up through being hungry. Breakfast can help us avoid becoming hangry!
  • Energy Supply – Breakfast is the first supply of energy your body receives after you wake up. A nutritious breakfast will give you all the energy you need to take you through to lunchtime and should be around 300 calories (as a general rule, though this may differ based on your individual caloric needs). If you think about the energy you burn, you need the most in the morning and you need the least in the evening when you are more likely to be relaxing and winding down before resting for the night. Make breakfast your energy supply priority!
  • Diabetes – A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that not eating breakfast could actually increase the risk of developing diabetes for women. The study showed that women who did eat breakfast between 0-6 times a week were at far higher risk of developing the disease than those who ate it daily.

Fab Ideas for Quick and Nutritious Breakfasts for Busy Women

So it’s all very well telling you why you should eat breakfast and why it’s good for you, but realistically you probably knew most of those things already and yet here we are!  Knowing you need to eat breakfast doesn’t mean you suddenly gain time in the morning to start preparing and enjoying amazing morning meals, does it? That’s why I have come up with some tips for tasty breakfasts that are super quick to make.

  • Instant Porridge – There are many instant porridge options around now – all you need to do is add water and microwave for a few minutes and then you have a healthy breakfast. Avoid the ones with added sugar and flavours to keep the calories down, but a plain version provides an easy breakfast virtually instantly and you can add fruit such as berries or coconut flakes to change the flavour quickly and easily.
  • Greek-Style Yoghurt – Go for natural plain Greek-style yoghurt and add in fresh fruit for a nutritious, quick and healthy breakfast on the run. Again, this only takes a minute or so to prepare and can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.  Sprinkle over some muesli for crunch and you’re setting yourself up for a good day!
  • Boiled Eggs and Fruit – The combination of a piece of fruit and some boiled eggs creates a very portable balanced breakfast providing protein, carbohydrates, fibre and vitamins. What can be quicker than just peeling a pre-boiled egg and a piece of fruit and eating them straight away?
  • Smoothies – Where a solid morning meal is just not going to happen, a smoothie may be a better option.  It can contain anything you like in an easy to consume and portable format that will provide your body with a good start to the day.  Adding fruit, greens, spices, protein powder or even compounded nutritional powders can make such a difference to your health.  Make sure you avoid the sneaky sugar filled flavoured powders as these will increase your calorie intake while not necessarily being nutritious. Check the nutrition panel before adding to your morning smoothie.

For many women a busy lifestyle means rushing in the morning and skipping breakfast is a common bad habit easily developed.  Breakfast can make a big difference to our health and weight and there are many options which are quick and easy to make, so no more excuses!