Sugar and the Brain

Two studies published this month shine a light on yet another negative impact of sweetened drinks, both from added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

First, the sugar research.

In a study of sugary drink consumption with four thousand participants, people who consumed the most had:

  • Accelerated brain aging
  • Poorer memories
  • Smaller overall brain volume
  • Smaller hippocampus – the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

These anatomical changes are all known as risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. And it doesn’t take much to cause damage; as little as four sodas per week qualifies you for this high intake group.

And the research on diet soda.

When trying to cut back on sugar, many people turn to diet soda as a substitute; but a follow up study found that those who consumed one diet soda per day were three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia. Surprisingly, this study found no correlation between sweetened beverages and dementia or stroke.

Keep in mind that with population studies like these, we can’t say conclusively that the sugar or artificial sweeteners are causing these brain damages. The researchers note that the drinks may be creating some vascular disease which impairs brain function. In addition, these studies used soda consumption as a stand in for overall sugar intake, but did not evaluate other sources of added sugars or artificial sweeteners.

However, we have consistent and compelling evidence that excess sugar increases the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. How much counts as excess? The answer likely depends on you: your health condition, your genetics, what you eat, and how much you move. These studies provide another piece of evidence that what we eat affects all of our body organs, including the brain.

While you are not drinking soda, here are some ideas of what to eat instead:

Happy eating,


Eat Your G-BOMBS

What do these six foods have in common?

Dr Fuhrman

They are part of a daily healing, revitalizing, energizing, disease prevention plan.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman created G-bombs as a cancer prevention aspect of his  micronutrient dense eating plan. These immune boosting foods contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients that provide our bodies with the optimal fuel to function at our best. While we can isolate and identify many of these chemicals in foods, their true health benefits come in their synergy. That is, they work together in the amounts contained in foods to create a bath of nutrients for the optimal functioning of our cells.  These food derived chemicals help our cells fight disease, process sugars and fats in the blood, build muscle, clear toxins, and really every other function we need to live at our best.

Another way to think of micronutrient dense foods is based on color. Make sure your plate contains at least three different colors of whole foods and fill your shopping cart with at least one food of each color group every time you shop:

 Purple, blue, deep red

 Leafy greens

 Yellow and green

 Orange

 Red

Follow either of these two plans to boost your immune system, brain function, reduce chronic inflammation, improve blood sugar control, reduce cholesterol, improve digestion, and feel better!

Happy G-Bombs-


Oldschool Lifestyle

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the DASH lifestyle plan, a diet that is clinically proven to prevent disease, follows generally agreed upon dietary principles, and has loads of free online support materials. And yet, few Americans follow it and not enough health professionals promote it (most primary care physicians counsel low sodium diet for reducing high blood pressure).

As a recent editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association points out, the DASH diet needs a re-branding. And really, they write themselves:

My that diet is DASH-ing.

DASH to your health.

Eat like this to DASH your high blood pressure.

Why haven’t we embraced DASH? Maybe it’s in the name: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension doesn’t sound too enticing, it doesn’t identify what you will be doing or eating- or not eating- as most much more popular diets do. It doesn’t have an easy one liner like Atkins: the low carb solution or Paleo: eat like a caveman. DASH: eat like a sensible person who cares about their health. Hmmm, not likely to catch on. The focus on high blood pressure makes most people think the diet is about cutting down sodium, which it will do, but is not really the focus and is just one aspect of a complete dietary approach that provides the health benefits of the symphony of nutrients provided by whole foods and plentiful plants.

The hype is real. If you follow this diet you will:

  • lower your blood pressure (40 million Americans have poorly controlled high blood pressure, a primary risk factor for stroke and heart disease).
  • decrease LDL “bad” cholesterol in the blood
  • prevent heart attacks and stroke: a 2003 study indicated 300,000 cardiovascular events could be prevented if people with high blood pressure followed DASH.
  • lose weight (especially if you incorporate exercise)
  • while similar dietary patterns have been shown to also:
    • reduce your risk of cancer and diabetes
    • promote strong bones

What is the diet?

You eat lots of foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and fiber:

  • beans
  • nuts
  • fish and poultry
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • low fat dairy
  • whole grains

While limiting foods high in saturated fats, sodium and refined carbohydrates:

  • high fat meats and dairy
  • added sugars
  • processed foods

Studies showing the health benefits of the DASH diet reinforce our understanding of the power of whole foods to protect our health. What’s more, you don’t have to follow the diet 100% to gain the benefits. The more you move your diet toward this goal, the healthier your heart, metabolism and blood vessels will be.

So eat more vegetables, fruits, lean meats, beans and nuts while eating less processed food and less high fat animal meats and dairy. And don’t forget to enjoy your meal!

Some of the many free resources:

Happy eating my DASHy friends!


Systems Not Goals

Goals are notoriously easy to set and just as easy to fail to achieve. As I’ve discussed in prior posts on the lack of benefits from focusing on body weight as THE marker for health, having goals can be counterproductive for many of us. We get caught in a cycle of goals setting and failure, reinforcing the common belief that it is just too hard to make lasting lifestyle changes. One solution to this psychological reality is the concept of prioritizing systems in our life instead of goals. In this way, we can create new habits that lead to lasting change – the “how” part that is often left out of lofty goals.

To follow this method to improve your health, instead of focusing on the goal of “getting my cholesterol into normal range” or “getting to a healthy BMI” you would reverse engineer the solution. Think of what you need to do to accomplish these goals. What types of lifestyle changes will reduce your cholesterol or your body weight? These are the systems, and they will be unique to you and the realities of your life.

How to create healthy systems:

  1. First, what do you want to accomplish? Yes, this is the goal setting we are avoiding, but stick with me as we will be letting this recede into the background. An example from my life is that I wanted to find a way to be less stressed, to be able to navigate my day without so much tension and anxiety.
  2. Pick a strategy. You may want to do a little research at this point, find out what experts or people you know recommend for making the change you are looking for. I decided that meditation would be effective, and I had tried it out before and kind of sort of liked it. Or at least felt like I could reasonably give it a try. This is important, bringing a dose of realism to the system you choose will increase the likelihood that you will incorporate it into your life.
  3. Evaluate the barriers. What are the realities of your life that make it harder for your to incorporate your strategy? It might be your schedule (no time), a lack of ability (I don’t know how to cook), or a lack of motivation (I get lazy at night and don’t feel like exercising). For me, I would often forget to meditate, and I wasn’t really sure I knew how to do it “right”.
  4. Create your system to overcome your barriers and make the strategy part of your daily routine. You may need to increase your skills or knowledge or change your schedule.  I decided to make meditation the first thing I did every morning – even if it was just for one minute. In addition, I added a meditation podcast to my commute listening routine to increase my understanding of the techniques.
  5. Revise and perfect. As you go along, the system you are putting into place needs to adapt to you and the changes in your life. It may be that you were too ambitious and need to make it simpler, or that you incorporated the changes easily and need to create new ones to keep moving forward. The key here is that you have a dynamic system that allows you to change and not fall into the failure trap.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. It takes time to cultivate new habits and create new lifestyle practices. The real path to successful health improvements is a longterm view. This is not a “crash diet”. You are making changes that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Today, I meditate for 25 minutes every morning- something I never could have imagined when I started out last year.

Learn more here –

Happy eating (and systems creating)!


Get in the Kitchen

When you make your own meals, you eat healthier. This is a very straightforward way to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. That is not to say that it is easy. Most Americans struggle to find the time and energy to cook.

In a 2014 study out of Johns Hopkins School of Public health, less than half of the over nine thousand participants cooked one daily meal on a regular basis (at least six times a week). The regular cooks consumed fewer calories, less sugar,  and less fat than those who ate out more. This comes as no surprise, as we have all experienced the stuffed feeling when eating the commonly excessive portions served at most restaurants.

Studies of restaurant meals indicate they contain higher amounts of calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium than home cooked meals. On average, Americans are consuming 25% of their daily calories from food prepared outside the home. This is a contributor to the lack of adequate nutritional intake, only 20% of US adults meet the USDA dietary guidelines.

A study published in the February issue of the Journal of Preventative Medicine provides a more detailed look at the barriers that keep us out of the kitchen. The researchers interviewed 437 adults in Washington for two years. They found that eating at home was associated with:

  • healthier overall diets (using the Healthy Eating Index)
  • lower monthly food expenditures- about $60 per month

This last point is key: eating at home is a strategy for reducing food cost. The perception that healthier food is more expensive is based on the price of prepared meals where a premium is often charged for fresh, whole foods. This leads the author’s to conclude that cooking at home can be a successful strategy to improve the quality of the diet without increasing food costs. To further support this conclusion, the more frequently participants ate out the more money they spent on food and the lower quality their diets. In a 2014 study from the same researchers, time spent in the kitchen was correlated with healthier meals: higher intake of vegetables, fruits, and salads. In terms of cost, they found that those who spent at least an hour on food prep per day spent less on food.

So it is not economics that keeps us out of the kitchen. Instead, lack of time, knowledge and cooking skill are the main barriers to increased cooking. The convenience of eating out drives most Americans to eat prepared meals. With some practice and planning, you can change this trend, save yourself some money and improve your health!

Here are some free online resources to get your started:  cooking within a budgetOnline recipes for inexpensive eatsCheap and Easy.

Happy eating,


Breast Cancer Prevention

Two recent studies point to nutrition as a strategy for reducing risk of breast cancer and improving outcomes for those already diagnosed. One specific diet and three foods take center stage in these studies: the Mediterranean diet, soy, nuts, and whole grains.

Soy: We have consistent epidemiological evidence that women who consume soy daily in early adulthood have lower incidence of breast cancer. While the mechanism is elusive, research points to the health benefits of two soy based nutrients: isoflavones and phyto-estrogens. These phyto-nutrients appear to modulate estrogen’s influence on the development and proliferation of cancerous cells.

Now we also have evidence that soy may benefit those with cancer. In a newly published study in the journal Cancer, researchers followed over six thousand women after breast cancer diagnosis for nine years, evaluating their health outcomes and soy intake. Participants who consumed the highest levels of soy isoflavones (the amount in about a 1/4 cup of soy milk) had a 21% reduced risk of death compared to those with the lowest intake. Read more about the health benefits and concerns of soy here.

Mediterranean Diet: Evidence continues to accumulate supporting the health benefits of eating this plan heavy, low saturated fat diet. New research published in The International Journal of Cancer which tracked twenty years of health outcomes in over twenty thousand post-menopausal women, found that the closer they followed the Mediterranean diet, the lower their risk of developing hormone receptor negative breast cancer. The highest adherence decreased risk by 40%. In this study, nuts and whole grains had the strongest influence on breast cancer risk. Learn more about the wonders of the Mediterranean diet here.

Here are few tips to get you started eating the Mediterranean way:

• Eat vegetables – at least ½ your plate, twice a day. Don’t forget the flavor, you should always enjoy your meals!

• Change the way you think about meat. Reduce your portion sizes and learn that you can be satisfied without a large serving (or any at all) of meat at every meal.

• Eat seafood twice a week.

• Eat vegetarian meals at least once a week. The more often, the better.

• Use healthy fats: olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.

• Use whole grains. Experiment with traditional Mediterranean grains like farro, barley, bulgur, and brown, black or red rice.

• Have fruit for dessert. This can satisfy the sweet tooth while avoiding added sugars.

Happy eating,


Live Longer: eat more fruits and vegetables

In a recent scientific review of 95 studies and nearly 2 million people, researchers report that the more fruits and vegetables you eat the longer you will live. Their data showed that as daily intake of produce increased, risk of death and chronic disease decreased. They found the strongest benefit from consuming 10 daily servings:

  • 24% reduced risk of heart disease
  • 33% reduced risk of stroke
  • 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • 13% reduced risk of cancer
  • 31% reduced risk of premature death

In addition, the researchers attribute 5.6 million and 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide per year to low intake of fruits and vegetables, respectively. Read more about how food can increase lifespan. However, you don’t have to hit the magic number 10 to add years to your life, as little as 2 servings per day provided some protection.

Many people struggle to consume recommended amounts, according to the CDC the average American eats just 2.7 servings per day with about 10% of us meeting the daily 5 servings suggested by most health agencies.

While we still don’t know the exact mechanism of how plant foods promote health, studies have shown they lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, promote immunity, and decrease inflammation. The authors of this study concluded that health benefits are not from one nutrient in the food but the entire system of nutrients delivered by a variety of produce.

This helpful tool can help you increase your vegetable intake by finding ways to enjoy them more. You can retrain your taste buds and perfect your vegetable palate!

Happy eating-