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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Feed Your Brain

I contend that if you want to be a great leader and a great contributor to society, you will want to maximize your brain. Notice I didn’t say intellect. There are supposedly 9 types of intelligence, so I do mean that, but people seem to have a narrow definition of the word ‘intelligence’ and I don’t want to pigeonhole the concept.

Your brain and your entire body are quite literally what you eat, drink, and absorb through your environment. Every piece of food and every chemical enters your body and has to be processed by it. I won’t go into the overall health ramifications of eating poorly, because I want to focus on how you think.

If you want to have an amazing brain – one where you give great advice to your kids, learn how to do your job highly competently, have the most fruitful arguments with your partner, or conceive of new ways of improving your life – then you need to feed your brain nutrients. Not just products that can be eaten, but food that contains the nutrients that build the healthiest cells.

Did you know that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are starting to be called Type 3 Diabetes? You can read the research and decide that for yourself, but it’s beginning to be accepted that a lifetime of high insulin (be it from processed foods or even from too much fruit) harms our brains. Similarly, the connection between poor food choices and depression, anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD is becoming so well known that top-tier medical schools are finally beginning to train their psychiatry students on nutrition as a treatment modality. And not to keep yammering about this, but multiple types of cancers feed off glucose (which is sugar), so a very low-carbohydrate diet can help cancer treatments work better in some cases (like breast cancer).

With all of that, I think you can deduce that if you want to be the most effective professional and lead your best life, the way you eat matters. If I were to summarize (and simplify) all of the research into a best diet for your brain’s health, it would be this:

  1. Eat real foods – avoid anything processed. Basically, a food should have 1 ingredient. Beef is made of beef. Lettuce is made of lettuce. But you can stack these foods. Mustard is usually mustard seeds, salt, and vinegar, which are all very natural foods. So, you could have a ‘real food’ hamburger by stacking just the good ingredients: meat, lettuce, mustard. What would not be a ‘real food’ stack would be a hamburger bun – which is made of highly-processed flour, sugar, salt, and preservatives – or ketchup, which is made of many ingredients and has a lot of sugar in it.

  2. Avoid sugar as much as you possibly can. It’s everywhere, like I just described with the ketchup. Things you want to avoid completely or as much as possible so you have the strongest possible brain are: desserts, breads, pasta, and fruit. Fruit should be eaten in very small quantities.

  3. Avoid vegetable oils. The oils used in most restaurants and nearly all processed foods were developed by companies that wanted to figure out how to use up leftovers from some of their crops (like cotton and corn) and also how to mass-produce oils for the processed food industry when it came along in the 1950s. The amount of processing to make oils out of seeds (canola’s real name is rapeseed) is so brutal that it mutates the seeds’ cells and releases free radicals, which are toxic. Switch to things that actually make oil, like olive oil and coconut oil.

  4. Try to eat during only an 8-hour period each day. The 16 hours each day that this leaves where you’re having only water and maybe coffee is a time when your body will get to live without insulin coursing through you, and that is a huge help to fighting cancer and other diseases, improving your mood.

That’s it. The sad thing for me about everything above is that I love fried foods and I absolutely love chocolatey desserts. However, after a few years now of avoiding them almost always (maybe 90-95% of the time), I can tell you that I absolutely get anxiety flareups within a few hours after eating sugar and it turns to depressive feelings in the morning. (This is also true for me if I have more than 2 glasses of wine, so I have to make the choice about whether I want the wine now and the anxiety later, or if I’ve enjoyed enough wine and can move to water. It’s always a choice.) As for fried foods, I have an easier time avoiding those now, but I am not as able to think through issues the day or 2 after eating them.

If you want to be the best version of yourself, you might want to consider how you fuel your brain.

Rather than link to research articles, I’ll choose a smattering of blog and magazine-type articles written by people I trust and link those below. Easy-to-read online resources to start your learning journey:

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