Finn's Q&A - what foods are kind to the mind?

Finn Health
  • Finn's Q&A - what foods are kind to the mind?

Zombies love brains.  It's practically all they can talk about.  Makes for a total yawnfest when you're trying to catch up after a long week of infecting humankind.  Truth is we all love brains. Or we should at least - but maybe sticking to feeding our own brains, as opposed to feeding ourselves ON brains makes more sense.  For the human race like.

 As the western world begins to develop worrying issues regarding cognitive decline in our ageing populations, there has never been a more relevant time for waking up to nourishing our grey matter.   There's plenty of special foods in nature's bounty that offerup the benefits to keep us from walking with the undead. Here's a wee zombie walk through some of our favourites.

Fats

Stop saying fats are boring.  I know it's all the rage in the health world right now - but we've been fat pushers (?) in The Hopsack for oh about the last 20 years, and the world has finally caught up with us weirdo hippies so it's bound to make some waves.  And PA-LEEASE stop with the calorie counting - when it comes to fats you're doing yourself a dis-service if you start restricting your intake (FOLLOW THAT ASTERISK! for a wee disclaimer on that wild statement of near fact)* Your brain is roughly 60% fat, so feeding it fats is essential.  So here's some new healthy habits that'll boost the fat layer in the grey matter: pop an avocado a day (try our wicked ripe organic hass avocados), get 5-7 portions of oily fish EVERY week, yes that's not just a tin of tuna either. Think sardines (fresh ones are amazing, just the bones are a pain in the neck), mackerel (one of our more native superfoods), rainbow trout or salmon; or here's one: slide a spoon of raw organic coconut oil down straight off the spoon and down your neck each and every morning. Your brainwaves will get zippin if you be sippin them fats. Sorry.  And last but certainly not least - pop quiz! What food looks like our brain and helps it function too...? Walnuts! An great source of vegetarian omega 3 fats, walnuts make for a superb brain food.  

 And a quick addendum on coconut oil - you’ve probably seen/heard/read the all the bluster about its potential benefits for reversing alzheimer's.  This relates back to a doctor in the states that fed her husband, who is suffering with the disease, a spoonful a day and began to see actual measurable improvements in his cognitive function.  Whilst we can’t attest to these claims there are plenty of studies demonstrating in animal models how ‘ketone bodies’ - metabolites that your body produces when consuming these medium chain fats that coconut oil is a rich source of - such as beta hydroxybutyrate, can support and even potentially enhance neuronal function and prevent decline.  If you haven’t tried one of our Bulletproof Coffees that support ketone production then maybe now’s the time!

Cayenne Pepper

Nothing beats cayenne for blasting your micro capillaries with fresh, oxygen-rich, blood supply.  It's a potent cardiac tonic, has some anti-inflammatory properties, and is a PO-TENT anti-oxidant rich brain food.  Research suggests that it may be due to an ability to reduce the activity of an enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which is associated with cognitive decline.  Try a pinch in a glass of warm water with a tablespoon of raw unfiltered cider vinegar first thing after waking up.  Commonly referred to as the Master Cleanse, it'll kick start metabolism, stimulate your detoxification pathways, and most relevant for here, get your brain ready for WORK!  Be aware that cayenne is just about one of the hottest chilli peppers known to man, known to make him sweat, turn purple, and run around the kitchen trying to wash away the burn - so take care and go slow.  Start with just the pinch and you'll be amazed how quickly your body dials up its tolerance. Like a workout for the guns, your tastebuds will soon be telling you to "load up", and push the threshold, and when it comes to cayenne, the more the merrier, so go have fun with it, but stay safe.

Cinnamon

Common as our chitchat on the weather, or swans on the canal, cinnamon is ubiquitous in our health world.  But that doesn't mean it's like the accountant in a room of tattooed super chefs, cinnamon it up there with the true rock stars of healthfood - with properties ranging far and wide, from its ability to curb unhealthy spikes in our blood sugars (more on that one later) to its anti-fungal properties, cinnamon's toolkit comes fully loaded.  What we're really interested in here is it's neuro protective properties. Seems cinnamon has the ability to inhibit inflammation in the brain, which is a BIG key to warding off neurodegenerative disease and as such should make it a regular feature in our brain health menu.

Turmeric

Where to start...?  If you haven't read the book on turmeric yet (of which many have been written), it's essentially the new emperor of superfoods.  Once again, the healthfood community has been banging on about it for decades due to its traditional use in cultures around the world that exhibit enhanced longevity and a distinct lack of the rotten degenerative diseases that have befallen western cultures in the past 50 years or so.  From its much lauded ability to modulate inflammation and pain pathways, to its somewhat less talked about liver protective benefits, and (most relevant to us right here) its neuroprotective properties, turmeric is a powerful food for health promotion.  There's all sorts of hyperbole about turmeric online and in print, including some powerful studies that suggest there's serious credence to the cultures in India and Asia that have revered turmeric for thousands of years and employed it at the core of their dietary regimen.  Methods of taking turmeric and tricks to enhance absorption include using both black pepper and fats, which come together in traditional Ayurvedic recipe known as golden milk, which combines turmeric, cinnamon, honey, cayenne and black pepper in a milk base.  If you want to get the benefits of turmeric outside your gut you want to ensure its fat soluble active compounds are maximally absorbed, for this we need to activate bile flow, hence the fat combination; and black pepper seems to have an effect in spiking blood levels of turmeric actives.

Green Tea and the Magic of...L-Theanine

Once again the wisdom of the ancients is sticking with us!!  Green tea is another example of a traditionally used and respected healthfood, that evidence-based medicine is beginning to pick apart and make sense of.  Green tea has long been considered a good swap for black tea and coffee drinkers who might be suffering in the adrenal department, but there's always been some controversy over this as green tea, just like those others contains some level of caffeine.  Enter a curious little compound, the amino acid l-theanine (applause!). This amino acid has been shown to calm the nervous system but without making us drowsy, and as such is the perfect antidote to caffeine's nervous system agitating effects. L-theanine is contained in especially high doses in a variety of green tea known as matcha.  Matcha tea is a powdered form of an extremely high quality japanese-grown green tea.  It's grown under shade, which encourages the plant to concentrate more of it's beneficial chlorophyll and other compounds in its fragile leaves.  The uppermost leaves with the highest concentration of all the plant's antioxidants are then harvested and dried, and when we drink matcha we actually consume the plant itself, and with it LOTS of l-theanine.  Buddhist monks drink matcha before going on fasted meditations that last up to 9 hours - they don't get hyper, and they don't fall asleep, they just remain calm, level and grounded, which is what we all feel when we drink matcha - now for the meditation bit!!  As well as simply calming the nervous system, green tea is coming under greater and greater scrutiny for its content of the flavonoid antioxidant Epigallocatechin Gallate (let’s just call it egcg cool?) which has been demonstrated to be a powerful protector of brain cells and liver cells as well as some even more controversial stuff that you’ll have to google, or else we’ll get shut down.  But let’s just say I’ve had 3 separate oncologists dispatching their patients into us to pick up matcha tea in the last few months. ‘Nuff said?

Blue Stuff

Nope not the black stuff, we’re in a different space here and and there’s no room for Guinness.  It’s a pretty well known fact that blueberries, beetroot and all those purple foods are great foods to support heart health.  But we’re so used to cleaving one body part from another in western medicine, that we often forget that the whole thing is connected.  When it comes to our cardiovascular system, no part of our body has such a rich supply of micro-capillaries as our brain, with an unbelievably complex network of arterial supply giving our brain the necessary oxygen - it uses 20% of our total body supply - to keep us conscious with all neurons firing.  There’s a group of compounds called OPC’s (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) found in all blue and purple fruit and veg (as well as grapeseed extract) that puts sticking plasters along the walls of our blood vessels, preventing venous leakage and buffering against damaging oxidants such as AGE’s (the result of too much sugar in our diet), helping our blood cells reach their intended destination and deliver their precious cargo of oxygen and nutrients.

Lecithin

Usually sourced from soya (we're on the hunt for an Irish market approved sunflower version to quell our GMO concerns regarding this source), lecithin is a seriously rich source of  the phospholipid, phosphatidylcholine (PC). Apart from PC's essential role in processing fats in our liver, PC plays a crucial role in neurotransmitter function in the brain. Lecithin is a handy one to use as it comes in granular form, tastes of nothing and dissolves fairly well in smoothies or even in your porridge!  These phospholipids are also available in some other foods, such as eggs, liver (not our favourite), and (yes it is our favourite) peanuts!! Some studies have demonstrated a reduced level of phospholipids such as choline in the blood of alzheimer’s patients - just another breadcrumb on the path to the palace of great mental health!!...or whatever.

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Another semi-pronounceable phospholipid so just a quick stop on this one, as PS's best sources are almost exclusively meat related, but smaller amounts are found in soya and cabbage - tofu stir fry with asian greens anyone?!  PS is also available in supplement form and its capabilities in terms of brain health relate to its ability to maintain fluidity in cell membranes, and maintaining solubility of fatty substances in the brain. PS also seems to possess some interesting properties in relation to cortisol (stress hormone) output and the management of correct levels within the body.

 

So it’s probably fairly clear to you all from reading this that the secret to supporting the grey matter into its latter years is basically down to managing inflammation and oxidative stress (hence all the references to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods).  One pathway which is for some reason overlooked by the medical establishment is homocysteine(perhaps because taking a measurement from a patient requires plasma separation within 30 minutes for accuracy so it’s a challenge to take a proper reading). Homocysteine is a pro-oxidant, that occurs naturally as part of the metabolism in our methylation cycle.  Under normal circumstances, homocysteine is harmlessly converted to cysteine and glutathione, but there’s an ever increasing awareness that this metabolic pathway is suffering in a large portion of the population, due to genetic and dietary constraints. At elevated levels, homocysteine plays havoc with our endogenous antioxidant system, and is associated with the onset of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and yes, you guessed it - alzheimer’s.

 So it’s a wrap, hope you all took notes and that your neurons will be getting the breakfast of their dreams from here on.  Oh speaking of taking notes, did you know that learning new stuff helps your brains out? Sounds fairly obvious right? But studies have shown that engaging in learning new skills such as languages or musical instruments RAPIDLY builds new neuronal pathways.  And if you brain is growing, it sure ain’t shrinking. If you want to get really nutty, try exercising whilst learning. Studies have shown that if you read whilst cycling (on a static bike this time please!), your brain learns faster, which means more neuronal connections, and the stronger they are, the less likely they’ll be breaking down anytime soon!!

*okay so if you're suffering from fatty liver or if  you have heart disease and a massive volume of plaques clogging up your arteries, there are obvious downsides to adding large slabs of most types of fats to your diet - polyunsaturated fats might be useful, and even coconut oil could help you out, but do consult your doctor as our rampant scribblings are no replacement for their years of medical experience.

 



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