10 Rules for a Younger, Smarter You
The following 10 rules will help you use superfoods in the right combination with other important nutrients to maximize your health effects, especially in an effort to reverse mild cognitive impairment (MCI), increase attention, and improve mood.
Keep these rules in mind as you create your own eating plan:
Rule #1: Add spices to every meal
One of the greatest brain defenses is the addition of spices to your meals. Spices function like little brain medications. They are nutrient dense: Each can provide between 20 and 80 different nutrients. By using them often, you are benefiting by getting more important vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants. They allow your foods to be better metabolized, because calories are burned more easily when they are accompanied by nutrients.
The following spices are known to have specific medicinal properties that improve cognitive performance, decrease inflammation of the brain, or reduce anxiety: allspice, anise, basil, black pepper, cayenne pepper (chile pepper), clove, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon balm, lemongrass, marjoram, mustard seed, nutmeg, peppermint, rosemary, saffron, sage, sesame seeds, spearmint, and turmeric.
How to do it: Incorporate regular herbs and spices into your daily cooking to gain the immediate health benefits.
Rule #2: The right caffeine improves cognition
Caffeine is the most consumed compound in the world that directly affects the mind. It is well documented that caffeine temporarily increases attention span because it stimulates the central nervous system and gets blood pumping to the brain. Regular caffeine consumption has a positive effect on memory storage and retrieval performance, as well as delayed recall, both over the short term and the long term. However, caffeine consumption is detrimental to those who consume it on an irregular basis, or in too high (or too low) a dose. And high doses of caffeine have also been shown to have negative effects on long-term memory.
To get the most out of caffeine consumption, it should be daily, in moderate doses, and at around the same time. The most pronounced effect of caffeine on memory appears to be on people between the ages of 26 and 64. Consumption with caffeine, generally aids cognitive performance for people of this age group, as long as they do not exceed the recommended dose of 300 milligrams per day.
Most people choose coffee or caffeinated sodas for the daily energy hit. However, a more nutritious caffeine option is tea. The following herbal teas have specific brain-enhancing properties: chamomile, a mild, relaxing tea with a delicate flavor, alleviates pain and lessens anxiety; lemon balm reduces anxiety and restlessness, taming tension and nervousness; passionflower is recommended when sleep is disturbed by anxiety; rooibos is a red South African herbal tea that is packed with vitamin C and 50 percent more antioxidants than green tea. For an added nutrient bonus, try a rooibos tea brewed with cinnamon.
Rule #3: Eat yogurt every day to enhance brain speed
Eating a single 8-ounce cup of low-fat unflavored yogurt every day offers a high dose of protein and healthy fat, which increases your brain speed. Best of all, yogurt may help burn fat and promote weight loss because it is high in both calcium and protein. A University of Tennessee study in 2005 showed that dieters who ate three servings of yogurt a day lost 22 percent more weight and 61 percent more body fat than those who simply cut calories and didn't add calcium to their eating plan.
Choose low-fat over fat-free, because you do need some fat in your diet every day. I'm partial to the new Greek varieties, because they are higher in protein and less processed than traditional yogurts, even the organic versions. And stay clear of the flavored varieties—they typically contain unnecessary sugars. Instead, feel free to cut up some fresh fruit to add to your cup of yogurt, or blend into a smoothie with fruit and a little ice for a satisfying drink.
How to do it: Use Greek yogurt to lighten up your favorite meals and desserts with these 15 unexpected Greek yogurt recipes.
Rule #4: Lean proteins create the most brain power
Several key factors influence your thinking, including glucose and its relationship to producing insulin. Although glucose and insulin are not brain chemicals, they are essential for normal brain function. Glucose is the principal fuel of brain cells, and insulin regulates glucose levels. The foods you eat influence levels of both glucose and insulin, and their levels affect your ability to think clearly. People function at their best when their blood sugar is within a fairly narrow range of glucose levels. In general, a healthy range for fasting blood sugar is between 75 and 85 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), and less than 140 mg/dl after eating.
Foods rich in protein (fish, chicken, beans, and lean meats) or fiber produce only modest increases in glucose and insulin, keeping both within a fairly tight normal range. This is also why higher-protein, lower-carb diets help people lose weight—they curb hunger by stabilizing glucose. Another reason why a high-protein diet is important is that it is rich in the amino acid precursors of dopamine and serotonin, which modify behavior and can help improve mood.
Rule #5: Kick the sugar habit
New research confirms what I have thought for some time: Sugar is an addictive substance, just like cigarettes. Once you start to eat foods that are high in any type of sugar, you find yourself craving more of them because they seem to restore energy and improve your mood.
However, they also contribute to the breakdown of your body's metabolic machinery, which drains the brain of energy. Sugar and its many hidden forms—high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, sucralose, molasses, and honey—all deplete dopamine. You may be addicted to sugar if you are constantly craving something sweet—like a small bite of chocolate—after every meal, or if you think about dessert all day.
The first step in breaking free from a diet high in sugar is to switch to sugar substitutes. While this won't end the cravings for something sweet, it will drastically lower your calorie intake. Then slowly decrease the amount you are using by half each time. Once you're off sugar, replace the taste with something highly spiced, so that you are beginning to increase your nutrients. For example, instead of sprinkling sugar on your oatmeal, try a sprinkle of cinnamon. Instead of sweetening your tea, try adding lemon.
Last, you can balance your brain's chemistry to beat the sugar withdrawal. Drink lots of green tea to flush out the sugar stored in your body. You'll also be helping your body get rid of other harmful toxins and gain nutrients.
How to do it: Follow these 19 rules to give up sugar and rid yourself from the addiction, once and for all.
Rule #6: Choose fiber-filled foods to cleanse your body
Fiber is like a scrub brush for your digestion, scouring your system until it is sparkling clean. It cleans out your colon, helps to control your blood sugar, pulls fat from your arteries, raises your HDL ("good") cholesterol, and detoxifies your body, making your skin sparkle. What's more, it's bulky: Fiber fills you up so that you aren't hungry, and you will eat less and feel full faster.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is acted upon by the normal bacteria in your intestines. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, beans, dried peas, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Insoluble fiber, which is not digested by the body, increases intestinal transit. It also promotes regularity and softens stools. Wheat bran, whole grain products, and vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.
How to do it: Find simple ways to sneak fiber into your diet and embrace this powerful nutritional source.
Rule #7: Drink water
Drinking plenty of water will increase your attention. Your brain is much more effective when it is well hydrated. It makes dopamine more abundant and more easily received by its receptors. It also enhances neurogenesis, because new cells need water to survive. Water also continually flushes your digestive system, moving food particles along at a rapid rate, which leads to weight loss. And if you're drinking water all day, you won't need to drink higher-calorie beverages like sodas or juices.
If you drink water 30 minutes before a meal, it will actually fill you up so you will eat less. This is especially true for older individuals who are typically borderline dehydrated because they forget to drink water throughout the day. Drinking coffee and tea counts, especially teas with deep colors for a greater nutritional punch.
How to do it: Fool yourself into drinking more water with these 3 quick steps.
Rule #8: Eat colorful fruits and vegetables to slow cognitive decline
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are probably the most advantageous foods that we can choose. These colors are actually an indication of phytonutrients, plant-derived compounds that help us maintain health. Fruits and vegetables also provide extra fiber, vitamins, and powerful antioxidants that boost our immune system.
To ensure a healthy diet, I tell my patients to eat every color of the rainbow every day: red fruits, such as tomatoes, watermelon, and pomegranate, contain lycopene, which supports the cardiovascular system to keep blood pumping to all your organs, including your brain, which allows you to think faster; orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, including carrots, oranges, and mangoes, contain carotenoids that can protect vision, which is necessary for improving memory; green foods, such as celery, brussels sprouts, and all types of lettuces and salad greens, have lutein, which may decrease your risk of cancers and helps maintain strong muscles and bones—vital for remaining young and vibrant; blue, violet, and purple plants, including blueberries and grapes, contain resveratrol, which can improve memory.
How to do it: Plant and pick your own veggies for the added brain benefits of gardening.
Rule #9: Choose high-quality produce
When you are shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, the healthiest choice is both local and organic. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are healthier than conventionally farmed, out-of-season products. They contain more vitamins and minerals because they are left to ripen on the plant instead of ripening during shipping. Organic choices are free from harmful pesticides, and some studies have shown that they contain higher levels of nutrients.
Raw fruits and vegetables contain higher amounts of fiber than when they are cooked. And many of the important nutrients, vitamins, and enzymes (which may help with digestion) are destroyed or inactivated during cooking, i.e., thrown out with the boiling water. For example, steaming broccoli on a stovetop can deplete its vitamin C content by as much as 34 percent, reports the Journal of Food Science. Microwaving is a better alternative—the broccoli retains as much as 90 percent of its nutrients.
How to do it: Follow these rules to start going organic and upgrade your family's entire produce selection.
Rule #10: Include all these basic food groups (carbs, protein, and fats) at every meal
For the best weight-loss results, plan your meals ahead of time. At every meal, fill your plate with one protein and two different fruits or vegetables with bright colors. Use healthy fats for cooking, and limit complex carbohydrates to no more than one meal and one snack a day.
Each meal should be at least 70 percent plant based and no more than 30 percent animal based to maximize your fiber and minimize calories. This can look like a lunch- or dinner-size salad with grilled chicken breast strips, or two eggs served with a half grapefruit and banana slices for breakfast.
The old USDA Food Pyramid has finally been replaced by something that is easy to follow and makes sense for both dieters and doctors. I'm even more pleased because its recommendations are very close to my eating plan.
How to do it: Follow these rules for a weight-loss dinner plate.