There is a regional dairy chain where I buy milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc. for my family. It is an extra stop on my grocery run, but the milk has no added hormones and is from a regional, local dairy which grows its own feed—and they don’t charge an arm and a leg for their products. I think they actually taste remarkably better than grocery store brands. Again, it’s out of my way, but I think it’s worth it. (For those of you who live near me, it is Braum’s. I plug them because I think they’re pretty good at what they do. They don’t pay me—they don’t even KNOW I plug them. But give them a try—plus you can get some decent ice cream while you’re there!)
The cashier on my last visit was a very young, and I will say, inexperienced young woman who asked me why I would come to a special store just to buy dairy products. I replied with the reasons I’ve just listed for you. She said, “So.” I then explained to her that my vocation was a brain development specialist and that quality foods were very important from a neurodevelopmental perspective. She responded, “How can your stomach affect your brain?” I nearly fell over. Really? Really?? Was there still someone left on the planet who doesn’t watch the news about how important nutrition is to your brain? I was stunned even further when she asked me how food affected your brain since food went down and your brain was up. It would have been hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.
So I am writing today with some basic information that is widely available and accepted. I know and subscribe to some “out there” nutrition, but what I’m sharing today is VERY foundational. This is the preschool of brain nutrition information.
#1 Artificial stuff is not good for you. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are NOT GOOD FOR YOU. When you read the list of ingredients, if you can’t pronounce it, or it has a # on it, it probably shouldn’t go in your mouth. Artificial sweeteners are neurotoxins—aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda, and any of their cousins are frankly detrimental to your brain. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to INHIBIT weight loss. Your digestive system was not built for them and must work overtime to process these—all the while having to steal nutrients from other tissues in order to do the digestive work, since a lot of the artificially manufactured stuff is often nutritionally bankrupt. Oh yeah, artificially manufactured “enriched” vitamins aren’t too great either. Vitamins/minerals from their natural source are exponentially better at the job than their man-made counterparts. Again, artificial stuff is not good for you.
#2 Convenience food is NOT really convenient. I’ve lived a long time on a typical American diet and I have experimented with the changes I’m recommending. I KNOW that you can scramble 10 eggs in the same amount of time it takes to toast ONE frozen waffle. I KNOW that I can make my own tacos, hamburgers and burritos in less time that it takes to start the car, drive to the “restaurant”, wait in line to get our food and then get home. I admit that I order significantly large quantities because of my family size—-but that means I’m cooking those same quantities and the cooking is still faster. Microwaving your food changes it at the molecular level and it makes the food taste differently. Can that be good? We’ve learned that steaming vegetables takes just about the same amount of time as microwaving. The steamed vegetables taste sooo much better (like they were intended to taste) and the kids eat double portions now. We’re wondering how we ever thought that frozen waffles, microwaving food, and fast food drive-thru lanes were convenient. They’re NOT—they take just as much time and MORE money. Convenience food is not convenient.
#3 Drink water. Your brain is up to 70% water. Your kidneys need water to purify your blood and use that same water to excrete toxins through sweat and urination. When you drink anything else—juice, coffee, tea, milk, soda, or alcohol—you are adding extra work to the load of your kidneys. This is especially a problem if you’re ignoring #1 and your kidneys have a LOT of toxins to filter. Your kidneys will have to filter out all the stuff in what you’ve been drinking to get to the component of water. Then they still have their original job to perform—filtering out toxins. Your entire body is estimated to be 60-70% water and EVERY system in your body depends on water. There is an easy formula to remember for how much water you should drink each day. Take your body weight in pounds. Divide that number in half. Drink that number of ounces as a minimum each day. Example: If a person weighed 100 pounds, they should drink a minimum of 50 ounces of water each day.
#4 Don’t drink soda. It contains artificial EVERYTHING. The acid in soda is very powerful—save it to clean your golf clubs and dissolve the corrosion off your car battery. Many people drink soda with artificial sweeteners. I know lots of great people addicted to diet soda. If you are addicted to something, that could be one of your first clues that it’s NOT good for you.
#5 Please eat complete proteins—especially at breakfast. The 21 amino acids that make a complete protein are the building blocks for brain tissue and muscles—-among other important things. Some people go days without eating a complete protein, yet they expect their bodies and especially their brains, to work tirelessly and efficiently. I have seen the best source of complete proteins to be from animal sources. It is very difficult to get enough complete proteins for growing children from vegan diets—especially if you do your research about soy. Because of this difficulty, it makes variety even more difficult. I believe variety is important for a wide nutrient base. This may not be a popular position, but it is the position I have seen be effective and produce the best health.
#6 Limit sugar. Insulin responses are linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. High blood sugar levels are complicit in high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, obesity, etc. Sugar is absent of any nutritional value and thus must steal nutrients from other tissue to do the digestion work. Stevia is a good, natural sweetener that does not have a negative insulin affect. Honey actually contains nutrients so it supports its own digestion. There are a lot of other sweeteners out there–agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, cultured cane juice, etc.—but they are usually still nutritionally negative. Do your own research, but please limit sugar.
#7 Make 60-80% of your diet vegetables. They are delicious, versatile, affordable, healthy, colorful and friendly. Okay, they’re not really friendly, but they’re sooooo good for us that I just had to throw that in there. If organic vegetables are not in your budget, please wash them VERY well. You can add fruits to this category, but they should not be a large part of your veggie portions. Fruits are wonderful, delicious and a GREAT way to replace processed foods. Don’t substitute fruits for vegetables, just ADD fruits.
One important fact needs to be discussed which makes the above 7 suggestions more relative to brain health. Fifty percent of your neurotransmitters are manufactured in your digestive system. Half of the chemicals carrying messages around your brain are made in your gut!!! Do you really want those swimming around in an ocean of chocolate pre-sweetened cereal in hormone/antibiotic laden milk? I certainly don’t.
It is my opinion AND experience that many children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Hyperactivity would see significant improvement if they JUST made the above-listed changes. Would it take extra work on the part of the parents? YEP! Would the parents get dirty looks from friends, teachers and grandparents by restricting bad foods? YEP! Will people have to return to cooking meals and not eating out? YEP! Will your child scream, yell, and throw a ballistic fit to get their favorite junk foods? YEP! Will some children even refuse to eat for a short time if they don’t get the food they want? YEP! All these obstacles can be overcome with a backbone, a kind tone and patience. I’ve seen it work hundreds of times. And is the return worth the investment? DOUBLE YEP!!
Take one change at a time and in a few weeks you’ll have a new and improved healthy family!
Disclaimer: Special occasions are special for most folks. Some children are so adversely affected by foods that they cannot ever make exceptions. However, that is NOT most children. Consider using the 90/10 rule. Ninety percent of the time we eat what is best for us. Ten percent of the time we have holidays, celebrations, treats. It’s reasonable and it’s so very do-able!