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Food & Cuisine

Cleverness not just in the gene, Foods also helps and harm your brain.

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Based on the kind of society we live in, we are used to the idea that we feed our bodies, and that our diet shapes our waistlines. But many of us forget that the same diet also feeds our brains, and that the food we give our brains shapes our thoughts and actions.

Without equivocation, Food shapes our brains just as surely as it builds our bodies. Day after day, the foods we eat are broken down into nutrients, taken into the bloodstream and carried up into the brain. Once there, they replenish depleted storage, activate cellular reactions and become the very fabric of our brains.

The brain is the hungriest organ in the body, consuming more than 20% of your body’s total energy haul. At the same time, our brain cells are irreplaceable.

Unlike the rest of the body, where cells are continuously replaced, the vast majority of brain cells stay with us for our entire lives – which means they are in need of extra care and nourishment.
Next-generation medical imaging and genomic sequencing studies, including work from my lab at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, have helped us understand that some foods play a neuro-protective role, shielding the brain from harm.

It’s no surprise that, conversely, other foods are harmful for the brain, slowing us down and increasing the risk of cognitive decline.

So, what does this mean for your daily menu in terms of optimising for brain health? It means lots of the following:
Fatty acids
A specific kind of fats called polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids, such as the famous omega-3s.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines, is the best natural source of the only kind of fat the brain needs throughout a lifetime.

Where fish isn’t an option, flax and chia seeds are good alternatives.

Glucose
A specific kind of carbohydrate called glucose. Glucose is the only energy source for the brain, so it’s crucial that the brain gets enough of it. Foods that are naturally rich in glucose and that at the same time contain enough fibre to stabilise your blood-sugar levels are beetroot, kiwi fruit, whole grains, sweet potatoes, onions and spring onions. Raw honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar are also good sources.

Vitamins and minerals
All sorts of vitamins and minerals, especially those with antioxidant effects such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium – but also iron, copper and zinc. Fruit and vegetables are the best natural source of these: go for berries, oranges, grapefruit and apples, which are sweet but have a low glycemic index. Leafy green or cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, spinach, kale, dandelion greens), as well as other vegetables such as onions, carrots, tomatoes or squash are also full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and disease-fighting nutrients that are needed for a healthy nervous system. Make every meal a rainbow.

Extra-virgin olive oil
Last but not least, extra-virgin olive oil is a brain-must, as it is loaded with anti-ageing nutrients such as omega-3s and vitamin E. Vitamin E is particularly important to protect ourselves against dementia. Large studies in the US and Europe have found that elderly people who consumed more than 16mg a day of vitamin E had a 67% lower risk of developing dementia compared with those who consumed little to none.
Dementia risk was further reduced by taking vitamin E in combination with vitamin C . Both these vitamins protect brain cells from the harmful effects of toxins and free radicals, while vitamin E has the added benefit of increasing oxygen delivery to the brain.

Now for the no-nos
At the same time, some foods are a big no-no. These include fast food, fried food such as fish and chips, fatty foods such as red meat, pork and high-fat dairy, and, most of all, processed foods: baked goods loaded with trans fats and refined sugar such as cakes, biscuits, crisps, ready meals and frozen pizza, as well as many snacks. Then there are all of the margarines and commercial cheeses, along with other spreadable or “creamy” products. Ditto for processed meats such as salami, bologna and frankfurters. The more of these processed foods you consume on a regular basis, the higher your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Across multiple studies, people who consumed as little as 2g a day of trans fats had twice the risk of those who ate less than 2g. It’s disheartening to discover that most people in those studies ate at least 2g a day, with the majority of participants eating more than double that dose on a regular basis.

Genes aren’t destiny
Beyond thoughts, moods and memory, diet plays a clear and determinant role in brain ageing and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, which affects 46 million people worldwide (and is projected to affect 130 million by the year 2050). When I started working in the field, most people understood Alzheimer’s as the inevitable outcome of bad genes, ageing or both. In 2018, it is clear that genes aren’t destiny, and ageing isn’t a linear path to unavoidable dementia.
Most people don’t realise that less than 1% of the Alzheimer’s population develops the disease due to a genetic mutation. These mutations are very rare and so is their outcome: an early-onset and particularly aggressive form of Alzheimer’s that develops when people are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. But the majority of the population doesn’t carry those mutations, and so the real risk for the rest of us is simply not determined by our genes.
While the blueprints for an individual brain do depend in part on DNA, recent discoveries have led neuroscientists to understand that genes load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. In fact, there is consensus among scientists that at least one third of all Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented by improving our lifestyle, from ameliorating cardiovascular fitness, to keeping our brains intellectually stimulated and, of course, eating better.

The human brain has evolved over millions of years to absorb specific nutrients and to function on a relatively specific diet. Now our society must also evolve, to attend to what our brains need to be fed. On a personal level, that’s for anyone pursuing a long life and a youthful brain to enjoy it. On a global level, that is millions of people who will have a chance to age gracefully with their mental capacities intact.

Food & Cuisine

Ultimate Baker releases sugar substitute for diabetics

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Ultimate Baker has released a new naturally-coloured xylitol sugar substitute created specifically for the diabetic market.



Ultimate Baker Xylitol is made purely with natural ingredients from fruit and vegetables, and the company claims that xylitol almost perfectly mimics the natural sweetness of sugar, while having 40% fewer calories.

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Xylitol carries a glycaemia index rating of 7, compared to the 60–70 rating carried by normal sugar, and this means that xylitol does not spike blood sugar or insulin.

Figures provided by the company claim that approximately 100 people in the US suffer from diabetes or prediabetes, and this has made the development of products tailored to diabetics crucial.

Sue-Ellen Cutler, vice-president of new product development at Ultimate Baker said: “Our goal is to create high quality products that are both visually appealing while free of the harmful synthetics and preservatives which are dominant across the baking industry.

“Xylitol is a product we’re just as proud to serve our families as we would all of our customers.”

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Food & Cuisine

Signs that your eating habits need to change

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Poor skin

The skin is the largest organ of the body and it offers much needed visual insight into what is going on with the body’s health.



For those who suffer with acne, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin or premature ageing, these are all signs that their diet might not be optimal. 

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‘In particular, acne, eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions have been associated with an imbalance of gut bacteria leading to “leaky gut”,’ they said.

What is leaky gut? 

Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins are able to ‘leak’ through the intestinal wall.

‘A variety of nutrients, derived from eating a balanced whole foods diet are important for skin health.’

It is important that people have a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish and flax seeds, along with vitamins A, E, C and zinc.

Changing one’s diet can drastically improve the skin but this can take three months or more so people need to be patient with dietary changes.

Low energy

Although carbohydrates and fats are primary fuels for making energy, the health expert said micronutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, iron, copper and sulphur are also an important part of the process.

Unfortunately diets that aren’t rich in these often lead to low energy levels. 

Anaemia, which is caused by a deficiency in iron, B12 or folate (B9), can also cause tiredness, as can poor thyroid function, which relies on nutrients such as iodine and selenium. 

‘Many people are also self-sabotaging their energy levels by relying on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar to get them through the day,’ they said.

 ‘However, this can have a negative impact on sleep and blood sugar balance, leading to peaks and troughs in energy throughout the day.

‘Switching to complex carbs and ensuring good quality protein each time you eat to stabilise blood sugars and reducing caffeine is therefore recommended.’

Fat accumulation around the middle

Everyone’s body is different and due to genetics people store fat in different areas.

According to the health expert storage of fat around the stomach (known as visceral adipose tissue) has been consistently shown to be a risk factor for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases and other health issues.

‘The most likely cause for VAT is a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, with excessive stomach fat being a tell-tale sign of insulin resistance, where the body becomes less able to utilise glucose for energy production and so instead stores it as fat,’ they said.

‘If you tend to have an apple body shape, then changing your diet and engaging in regular physical exercise is particularly important.’ 

Digestive Issues

The health expert said some of the most obvious signs someone’s diet needs changing is when they’re faced with digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea and bloating, which indicate the gut isn’t happy.

Eliminating processed foods and switching to a whole foods diet is likely to improve many people’s digestion due to the increase in fibre from fruit and vegetables.

Others may need to remove foods such as gluten, wheat or dairy from their diet for a period of time.

Improving the balance of bacteria in the gut by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and live yoghurt can benefit digestive conditions.

Alternatively people can take a live bacteria supplement, such as Lepicol ($17/£13), a three in one combination of gentle psyllium husk fibre which contributes to the maintenance of normal bowel transit.

Low mood and anxiety

Mental health is a complex issue that often involves a variety of factors but diet and lifestyle choices are being shown to play an important role.

‘Nutritional psychiatry is increasingly being used alongside conventional therapies for conditions such as anxiety and depression,’ they said.

‘A Mediterranean style diet, high in colourful fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and olive oil, with moderate amounts of fish and seafood, has been shown to be particularly effective.’

Poor Immunity

The health expert explained that recurring infections, such as colds, UTIs, thrush and fungal nail infections, are a sign that the body isn’t getting enough nutrients.

This is a sign that the immune system isn’t receiving enough support from the diet and that people need to increase their intake of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, vitamins A, C, E, and B6 and folate.

‘Focus on getting lots of colourful fruit and vegetables and good quality protein such as organic meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and legumes as these provide the building blocks and co-factors for immune cells,’ they said.

It’s also best to steer clear of processed foods, simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, known to feed unwanted bacteria and yeast in the gut.

Instead include prebiotic foods such as slightly under-ripe bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, oats and asparagus.

Hormonal issues

Diets high in sugars and refined carbs are likely to exacerbate hormonal issues such as period pain, menopause, endometriosis and fertility troubles.

‘Supporting healthy blood sugar balance is therefore a crucial step in regulating hormones, as is working on body composition to reduce excess fat cells, which produce their own oestrogens,’ they said.

They recommend increasing the intake of nutrients to help support healthy oestrogen detoxification.

This can be done by eating folate from leafy green vegetables and glucosinolates from broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts.

‘Dietary phytoestrogens found in flaxseeds, traditionally fermented soybean products and legumes can also be particularly useful for modulating oestrogen levels,’ they said.

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