As we discussed last time, everyone wants to boost their brain power. The following are a set of basic, flexible principles that can be followed by anyone. Following these guidelines will put you on a continuum, moving toward a plant-based diet that’s low in calories and high in nutrient-dense organic foods. Wherever you are on the continuum now is fine – it’s just a starting point.
1) Detoxify Your Body
The human gastrointestinal system is like an elastic pipe; this pipe can trap waste, and toxins may be absorbed as a result, creating a foundation for illness. Periodic fasting – two or three times a year – is an essential part of yoga nutritional therapy. It cleanses your digestive tract, detoxifies and revitalizes your body, and lifts your spirit – and it’s a great way to start the transition into a better way to eat.
The most convenient way to fast doesn’t require total abstinence from food. Neither does it mean that you only drink water, which is a powerful, but not very comfortable, way to go. I recommend fasting using a combination of water with lemon, herbal tea, juices, and soups. “The 36 Hour Fast” is one such fast that won’t disrupt your life. For extended fasts, I recommend consulting with a doctor or nutritionist.
There are important do’s and don’ts that go along with a fasting program. Pregnant women, children under age 16, and people with diabetes, active infections, a heart condition, or cancer should not fast. It’s a good idea to stop taking vitamins while fasting, but be sure to keep taking any prescription medications. As much as possible, avoid tobacco, caffeine, and alcohol. Light exercise such as walking or yoga, will help cleanse your blood and tissues, but do not do strenuous activities.
To prepare for a fast, eat primarily steamed vegetables for a few days before you begin.
Breaking a fast is not unlike coming out of a deep meditation: You must be careful not to shock your system-in this case, your stomach and intestines, which have had a nice rest. A double-cheese pizza with pepperoni and anchovies, for example, is not a good way to make the transition back to eating! When you first break your fast, stick to watery foods such as soup, steamed vegetables, and fruit – and eat small meals. Continue to drink plenty of water after a fast; your body is still detoxifying.
2) Beware of “Alarm Foods”
Certain foods and substances – such as sugar, pasta, red meat, deep-fried snacks, caffeine, and alcohol – tend to cause an “alarm reaction,” a signal of artificial stimulation and inflammation, in your body.
Eating alarm foods regularly, particularly when you’re stressed, can put your body in a state of perpetual arousal. Chronic stress creates free radicals, which can cause gene mutations that may lead to cancer, as well as the cellular inflammation that can contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, anemia, fibromyalgia, asthma, and allergies.
It’s no accident that alarm foods – most of which are high in calories and low in nutrients – are precisely the ones we crave when we’re stressed or tired; they give us the artificial energy that keeps the stress cycle going. Don’t put pressure on yourself to give up all of these foods at once; simply noticing what you reach for when you’re stressed or fatigued is a step in the right direction.
The next step is knowing which foods can help to reverse the stress cycle and provide true nourishment.
3) Seek Out Omega 3s and Increase Your Intake of Fruits and Vegetables
Clearly, the type of fats you consume has a powerful effect on your health. While many alarm foods contain saturated fat, which causes inflammation, food containing omega-3 fatty acids (perhaps the best of the “good fats”) have been shown to inhibit inflammation. So start incorporating omega-3-rich flaxseed oil, olive oil, salmon, and tuna into your diet, and keep snacks such as almonds and pumpkin seeds on hand.
Vegetables and fruits are the antithesis of alarm foods: They are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and they distribute antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds to all your cells. Like the “good fats” they counteract the effects of stress in your body. When consumed on a regular basis, the chemical compounds in veggies and fruits-called phytonutrients- boost your immune system and may help to prevent and treat diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis.
Replacing some of the alarm foods in your diet with vegetables and fruits will also, by default, lowers your intake of fat, cholesterol, and calories. The heart-health benefits of a low-fat diet are well established, and both animal and human studies have shown that reducing caloric intake while keeping nutrient levels high can help prevent (and even reverse) memory loss and improve cognitive functioning, and may significantly prolong life. As a physician specializing in brain longevity, I generally recommend that patients try to cut about 500 calories from their daily diet while boosting their intake of phytonutrients.
Tune in next time for 4 more steps to deal with foods that are good for your brain.