Why Fasting is Good for your Brain
Below are a couple of the most powerful points that I have taken from Ngaire Hobbins’ book “Better Brain Food: Eat to Cheat Dementia and Cognitive Decline”.
The book focuses on the scientific research to date on brain health. For anybody interested in brain health, I would highly recommend. Evidence-based and extensive, the book covers all the facts very well. Even for the most-informed on the topic, the book is guaranteed to teach you a few things that you did not know before.
I was inspired to read the book as Ngaire Hobbins is an international authority on nutrition and is well recognized for her work with seniors. She is a writer, speaker and educator on food, ageing and brain health.
The most powerful message that the book conveys is that there is no magic ingredient for a healthy brain. Rather, the key to brain health is the impact of many different factors at play together.
I would rate this book 5 out of 5 – Not only did it give me a better understanding of all of these factors and why they help cognition but also provided me with some tips (and recipe’s) in order to achieve this.
The key to brain health, when it comes to food, is not in any magic food or restrictive diet, it’s in the complex interplay of these myriad factors, including nutrition.
– Ngaire Hobbins
What fasting does to your brain and how it can positively impact it
Fasting when you are a young adult, or in middle adulthood has been shown to may help cognition later in life, mainly by reducing the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by over-nutrition. Note that this is not advised for the over 65’s.
Here are the main points suggested by Hobbins:
• If you find that you never feel hungry and always leave a meal feeling just a bit stuffed full of food, it is worth thinking about skipping a meal here or there, or reducing the size of your plates so you eat just a little less.
• Combine these practises with good activity levels to help maintain muscle as you move into later life.
• Focus on veg, salads and fruits. Your plate or bowl should contain at least half or more of these foods. Add to that grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, fish, good oils, dairy foods and meats: Mediterranean – or Asian- style diets are good. You need protein, calcium and all the nutrients in the latter group of foods, but the vegetables will give you not only the majority of the antioxidants your brain so desperately needs, but mean your meals will not tend to contain excess calories.
• Exercise does the same sort of things for your brain that periods of reduced food also do, so the importance of getting the exercise recommended cannot be overstated.
How having a well-stocked pantry can impact your brain health
Having a well-stocked pantry means that you have the opportunity to create a delicious and nutritious meal quickly.
Below are a list of ingredients that are good to keep always on hand:
• Spices – Cinnamon, Turmeric, Cumin, Coriander, Fennel Seeds, Paprika.
• Nuts & Seeds.
• Oils such as walnut Oil, extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed sesame oil etc.
Powerful Tips on how to improve your Brain Health
Maintain physical activity all the way through life. This, says Hobbins may be the most powerful tip of all.
• Make it regular.
• Include bouts of higher-intensity activity.
• Balance with meditative or relaxation activities.
2. Keep the perfect weight
• Avoid obesity.
• Do all that you can to reduce excess body-weight in youth and middle age.
3. Stay happy
Scientists looked at the brains of people who had passed away and they discovered lower levels of serotonin in the brains of people who had had Alzheimers disease than in those who had not the disease. While this does not necessarily prove that depression is a contributor to Alzheimers it is enough to say that it is a possible risk that should be eliminated.
• Make sure to treat depression.
4. Enjoy social connection
• Prioritize a social life and nurture your network – both family and friends.
5. Stay hydrated
• Make drinking water part of your morning and night routine.
• Set reminders during the day.
• Jazz up the experience. Try adding some ginger or herbs or add some fruit or cucumber for flavour.
• Do not use thirst as your marker. As you get older, you don’t always feel thirst as soon as you should.
6. Adopt the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet offers an abundance of antioxidants.
• Eat plenty of vegetables, pulses, fruits, nuts, grains and good oils.
• Eat food that is seasonal, has undergone minimal change or that is as close as possible to the form it started out.
• Eat foods that have been locally sourced and locally produced.
• Check out some tips on how to start the mediterranean diet here.
7. Make time for meditative practice & brain down-time
Your brain needs a combination of lots of things to do, with time in between to rest and recoup.
• Anything you can do that allows time away from complex thought is good for the brain. It doe not matter if that is going for a run, having a game of golf, meditation etc – anything you can do to help your brain “switch off” or focus on one thing in a quiet way is important.
• Important to have your own tried and tested stress-management strategies.
8. Continuously add to your cognitive reserve
The more you stock your brain pantry with experience , learning, practises and activities, the bigger the network of connections – the cognitive reserve – that will keep it from going hungry and not being able to do what you need of it to keep your life on track. A greater cognitive reserve provides the brain with more space to adapt if connections are lost at one point or another. The more experience you can give your brain at any age, both physically and mentally, the better chance you have of weathering any such problems later on, should they occur.
• Brain training exercises, crosswords, sudoko etc are all great.
• Try to mix them up a bit – you need to add new activities and learn new skills now and then get the best benefits.
• Do interesting things, interact socially and continuously learn new skills.
9. Eat a wide variety of foods
It is impossible to know what the brain may need at any one moment, so the greater the variety of foods eaten, the better the chance that you will cover all bases.
• You do not need much of each different food. You just need variety.
• Eat a variety of coloured foods to ensure plenty of antioxidants. Ideally, eat at least five or six different coloured foods at each meal, more if you can manage it. When you put a protein food at the centre of the meal and surround it with as many colours as possible, you cover your bases.
• Eat as many different things as you can every day and week, and reap the many benefits that they bring.
10. Eat herbs & spices
In recent years a lot of research has been done on some herbs and spices including cinnamon, rosemary, sage and turmeric (also called curcumin). All of these are great sources of antioxidants, but there is also quite a lot of promise in findings of their Anti-inflammatory qualities.
• Add spices & herbs to meals and recipes.
11. Do weekly prep
• When doing your weekly shop, focus on 3 or 4 vegetables and fruits that are in season, and of different colours.
• Spend a few hours in the kitchen one day a week – soaking beans, cooking grains, roasting vegetables and you will have to have the ingredients on hand to make nutritious meals in minutes during the rest of the week. Having a fridge full of cooked ingredients means that you can throw together a delicious meal quickly and simply.
Resource – Ngaire Hobbins – Better Brain Food: Eat to cheat dementia and cognitive decline
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