Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Good Food for Your Brain

“As you know, the brain controls behavior.” 
      --from The Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment Diet by Richard S. Isaacson, MD and Christopher N. Ochner, PhD, 2016

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  On a daily and weekly basis, some of the mental health issues I encounter include:
  •  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Bipolar (manic-depressive)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Schizophrenia

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Ten years ago, if you would have asked me about my knowledge of the above mental health issues, I would have told you I knew very little about them.   In my work today, I am surrounded by clients with all these diagnoses.  

One reason why mental health issues are more prevalent today is due to increased recognition and awareness.  In some disorders, however, there may be other reasons why they are increasing:  too much intake of added sugars, artificial sugars, food dyes, and convenience foods containing highly processed and artificial ingredients.

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As a lifelong student of nutrition, I know there is a connection between physical and mental health.  The foods we eat are key to both.  When was the last time your physician – or your kids’ pediatrician - asked you about sugar intake, including the artificial sugars found in diet sodas? When was the last time your doctor prescribed eating whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables and avoiding added sugars and processed foods? 

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As we learn to feed our brains (and bodies) daily doses of anti-inflammatory foods (such as green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, purple and blue vegetables and fruits containing the pigment anthocyanin such as blueberries, blackberries, black rice, and red cabbage) and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as wild salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds), we provide our brains (and bodies) with the fuel to prevent diseases and in some cases, I strongly believe, improve outcomes of some mental health disorders.  I believe there is a key role in mental health services for talking about how eating whole foods (whole grains, vegetables and fruits) and avoiding processed foods and high sugar foods can improve our brain health and our behaviors. 

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Walnut-encrusted salmon

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Notice how the walnut looks like the brain?  God's Pharmacy!

Here are 12 foods that contribute to a healthy brain – and body:

  1. Avocados (these contain unsaturated fats, the “good” fat)
  2. Blueberries and other blue and purple fruits and vegetables (blackberries,
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and watercress)
  4. Eggs
  5. Leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, arugula)
  6. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts)
  7. Olive oil
  8. Quinoa (this seed is known as the “Mother Grain” and is a complete protein)
  9. Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp)
  10. Walnuts (and other nuts such as pistachios, pecans, and hazelnuts)
  11. Wild salmon (and other fatty fish)
  12. Yogurt

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With love and gratitude,
Nancy L. Heinrich, MPH

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.