Eating for Your Brain
So I went last week to a wonderful dinner in NYC at Bouley Botanical’s Chef and the Doctor Series called Brain! With Columbia University Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey and Nutritionist Dana James, FoodCoachNYC, who works in NY and LA.
The dinner began with Chef Bouley telling us his story. Having been a top-rated chef in NYC, Chef Bouley began to realize that he could cook meals that would provide energy to his patrons rather than putting them into a food coma (a tired, listless state after most rich French meals). As he began his journey of helping his customers gain energy from his meals, he began asking doctors he knew what he could do nutritionally to help bring energy and good health to his customers. Much to his surprise, the doctors didn’t have the answers for him. And voila, The Chef and the Doctor Series was born where Chef would find doctors who had already made this connection. He brings interested customers to gather together to hear these doctors while providing a meal that customers would enjoy and also feel energized as they walk out of the restaurant.
The Brain! Dinner featured Drew Ramsay, M.D. and Dana James, Nutritionist. As they both spoke, it became patently obvious that we have a mental health crisis going on in our country and it is growing. We also have a nutrition problem occurring just beneath the surface as the American population is more obese, more diabetic and less happy than ever. These two wellness warriors gave a wonderful talk on how to fix this problem with food. Their point of view is that our diets are not helping the mental health crisis and may, in fact, be contributing to the problem.
What did they propose? Foods have a pharmacological effect on our physiology. That is to say, we need the right food in our bodies so that we can work the way we were designed to operate. It kind of reminded me of sports cars and gasoline. You would never fill a Ferrari with regular gasoline because that would gum up the engine. So why are we putting so much processed food and sugar (the food equivalent of regular gasoline) into our bodies?
Overall, we need to be eating a diet of whole unprocessed foods as close to nature as we can find them. We should be seeking out organic food wherever possible. If you can’t afford organic, keep a close eye on the Environmental Working Groups website where they list the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen (a group of fruits and vegetables that are the most important to eat organic and those that are less harmful if conventionally grown). In general, our food should look like a rainbow on our plate. It’s important to eat more fruits and vegetables that cover the entire color spectrum because these foods are phytonutrients. These are known as the Brain Protectors. They keep the fat from oxidizing in the brain. The blue fruits carry different phytonutrients than the green ones. They are all important and our body likes a wide variety of phytonutrients.
Quality proteins are also important. Lean quality proteins are the precursors to many neurotransmitters, which power our brains. This is another area where quality is important. How the animal is raised has a big impact on the quality of its nutrition. Look for organic, grass fed protein and make sure you get enough of a wide variety of proteins.
Eat lots of fats from good sources. Our body needs different kinds of fats to meet all our needs. We need Omega 6’s to support good cell signaling. These can be found in nuts, seeds, and organic meats. Omega 3’s (think fish oils) are called Brain Rejuvenators. They provide long chain fatty acids, which get uptaken by the brain so they are very important to our diet. Omega 3s also increase grey matter in our prefrontal cortex (which is where our rational thinking occurs) and the hippocampus (the part of the brain which deals with memory). If we aren’t eating wild salmon (not farmed fish, they have their own health challenges) 5 times/week, then we should be taking fish oils from a trusted source.
MCT (medium chain triglycerides) help produce ketones, which clean up the brain and allow it to produce BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which is also important in brain health. We need Vitamin D to support our mood and REM sleep. We need plenty of Vitamin E because it is a brain antioxidant. Zinc helps with memory while Iron supports cognition (thinking skills) and language. Magnesium calms the brain.
Phew, that was a lot of information over the course of the dinner. While I love getting into the nitty-gritty about which foods are good for which systems, it can overwhelm a person. To that end, I follow a few simple rules:
- Eat unprocessed and organic foods whenever possible.
- Eat the rainbow of colors every day.
- Make sure you have enough protein and fat in your diet from good healthy sources.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and support your detoxification process.
- Stay away from foods to which you are sensitive. (More on that later)
If you are interested in healthy eating and hearing about it, check out The Chef and the Doctor Series at Bouley Botanicals. I’m looking forward to going back in January and learning about food, vision and the central nervous system. Join Me.