There are many facets to the human body, some known and some not so well known. One area that we are learning more about is our brain..or should I say our ‘brains.’
Yes, you read that right. We humans have two brains…really. We tend to think of the brain in our head as the command center from which all physiological functions occur. But there is another kind of intelligence that you may not know about – your other brain.
Our digestive tract houses a very critical part of how we perceive a variety of emotion-based sensations and not just digestion. The gut is referred to as the other nervous system: the ‘enteric nervous system’ that is really the brain in your belly. The belly brain is located under the mucosal lining and between layers of the esophagus, the stomach and the small intestine. You know that feeling of having ‘butterflies’ in your stomach or a lump in your throat or what about that ‘gut feeling?’
The enteric nervous system is rich is neurochemicals and produces an immense amount of neurotransmitters found in the cranial brain such as serotonin and dopamine – feel good chemicals. In fact, the gut produces 95% of the chemical serotonin. This gut brain not only senses and control events in the digestive tract, but throughout other parts of the body as well, including your emotions. This belly brain contains more than 100 million nerve cells – more than the spinal cord.
The enteric nervous system brain is connected to the central nervous system brain and influences not just mood, but plays a key role in disease processes as well. In fact, 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract. Despite its deep reach in terms of our health and emotions, it does not play a part in our conscious thinking or decision-making.
An example of how tied our gut is with our emotions, Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, stated up to 70 percent of the patients he treats for chronic gut disorders had experienced early childhood traumas like parents’ divorce, chronic illnesses or parents’ deaths. “I think that what happens early in life, along with an individual’s genetic background, programs how a person will respond to stress for the rest of his or her life”
Taking care of both brains is going to serve us well in many areas of health. By reducing stress, choosing a healthy nutrient dense diet and listening to your gut..you will help to create emotional and physical life-long health.
One critical key to optimal health is to prevent and/or reverse low-level inflammation. The most inflammatory ‘food’ is.. sugar. Most Americans consume an average of 156 lbs. of sugar a year – a staggering statistic. Part of the problem is a result of the hidden sugars in a multitude of foods – even foods that you wouldn’t expect to find sugar. The obvious sugars sources such as sodas contain a stunning amount of sugar. Each can of soda has 10-15 teaspoons of sugar.
According to the USDA, “added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation.” They also include any sugar you add to the food and drinks you make at home.
Your best bet for avoiding added sugars? Read the nutrition label. Unfortunately, many sugars are hidden and without reading a nutrition label..you’ll never know.
To find the sugar hidden in your everyday foods, read the Nutrition Facts label. Under “carbohydrates,” you should find the word “sugars.” If sugar is listed, look down at the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed by weight, so the first ingredient will be the highest amount the product contains and the last listed ingredient will be the least.
When reading the ingredients list, pay attention to other sources of sugars that masquerade under a variety of guises such as: syrup, brown sugar, dextrose, honey, or fructose. corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, cane juice, cane syrup and sucrose. Any ingredient ending in “ose” is likely a form of sugar.
Too much sugar often leads to low-level inflammation that can result in many health conditions. Remember, low-level inflammation is the core cause of most illness, disease, faster aging and weight gain. More nutritious foods may be overlooked in the quest for something sweet. By reading labels and choosing carefully, you can reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet and create vibrant, optimal health.
Have you ever wondered if there were any other grains to eat besides wheat and rice? I have good news for you…there is! There is a world of relatively unknown super tasty, super grains that have yet to make their debut regularly to the dinner plate. The reason for this is that people either do not know about them or if they do, they can’t quite figure out what to do with them.
Super grains pack a wallop in terms of their nutrient punch. They are dense in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants that not only protect your health, but can reduce inflammation as well.
My top 3 picks for super grains:
The Ethiopian grain Teff is the world’s smallest grain (so small it cannot be processed). It is considered a powerhouse of nutrition. This African whole grain is used to make spongy Ethiopian flatbread. It’s known for its sweet, molasses-like flavor and its versatility; it can be cooked as an oatmeal alternative as well. Teff is gluten free and so a great alternative to wheat. Teff has twice the iron of other grains and three times the calcium.
Amaranth is another super grain that is extremely high in protein. Amaranth seeds, from the amaranth plant are very high in iron and calcium, and its fiber content is triple that of wheat. Amaranth is completely gluten-free and it contains three times more fiber and five times more iron than wheat, and has more protein than milk.
These large honey-colored grains are similar to Durham wheat. The large grains offer protein and important minerals making Kamut nutritionally superior. Kamut is considered a high energy food because it has a higher lipid profile. Kamut is a good source of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that may guard against development of certain cancers. The daily selenium requirement for adults is 55 micrograms and Kamut offers up to 90 micrograms per half-cup serving.
These grains will add more enjoyment and nutrition to your regular ‘go-to’ meals. When you see them at the grocery story..try them! They cook very similar to other grains you are used to and .. the best part? An easy path to better health.
Many people have bought into the myths and misconceptions about foods and how they affect our health and/or weight loss. These misconceptions come about largely due to the media and its promotion of faulty research data. An example of the myths that propagate the notion of weight would be ‘Eating fat makes you fat’ – we now know that this is simply a falsehood. To help you clear up any faulty beliefs regarding diet, check out the top four diet myths below:
1. Eating fat makes you fat
We are conditioned to believe that fat will make us fat. This sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Healthy fats such as tuna, salmon, flaxseed, nuts and seeds, coconut oil and fish oil BURN fat and burn it faster! By replacing refined carbs and unhealthy fats with healthy fat, you allow your body to tap into your fat stores for energy. These healthy fats trigger the hormone Leptin that signals you have had enough food – you are satisfied which will in turn help to help to keep your portions smaller, but leptin also revs up your thyroid output, and in turn, speeds up your metabolism
2. All calories are created equally
Here again, we have been conditioned to believe that a calorie is just a calorie, that a 100 calorie candy bar is the exactly the same as 100 calories of broccoli. We now know that foods such as refined white flour and sugar, for example, are treated by the body very differently. When you ingest sugar, your blood sugar takes a roller coaster ride that not only triggers excess insulin, but low-level inflammation as well. One important key to optimal health is to be very sensitive to insulin. When foods such as candy bars and white flour products are ingested every day, insulin is triggered too much and the body starts to ignore it..there goes optimal health.
3. Eating late causes weight gain
It is really about how much you eat during the day and what you eat that makes the difference. Ensuring that you keep your blood sugar balanced is key to preventing weight gain. If you allow more than 3 hours to go by without eating, your blood sugar takes a dive and you will be vulnerable to poor food choices and more. Having said that, it is important to not get up in the middle of the night and eat. Why? Because when we sleep, our bodies go through a ‘fasting’ period – a natural ketosis then takes place – this is important for fat burn. So if your natural inclination is to get up after you’ve been sleeping to chow down, you are disrupting the natural fat reduction that occurs.
4. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than frozen
Yes, fresh fruits and veggies are delicious when really fresh. Many do not realize that fresh produce is often picked before it is ripe to ensure that it is shipped ‘intact’ without damage. Much of this produce is shipped from long distance to get to your store further depleting its nutrient level and add to this the produce sitting on the store shelves and in your refrigerator for who knows how long degrading even more of its sensitive nutrient levels.
Frozen produce, on the other hand, is generally picked at its peak of ripeness and then frozen immediately.
Now that you know these are just myths, add some healthy fat to your diet, don’t be shy about choosing frozen fruits or veggies over fresh, don’t worry if your last meal is late at night and lastly, remember that all calories are not created equal.
With the recent passing of Annette Funicello (of Multiple Sclerosis), one of the original Mouseketeers and star of many 1960′s Beach Party movies, the brain has come back into focus again. President Obama has instituted $100 million towards brain research. Alzheimer’s Disease will become more prevalent in the coming years due to an aging Baby Boomer Generation.
The human brain is complex mechanism in its function and is still not fully understood. Yet, we do know one thing, it can become dysfunctional (as what happens in MS and Parkinson’s Disease). Each nerve cell communicates with others throughout the human body. Think of a multitude of string of wires interconnected with each other multiplied by a 100 billion times. Those connections can ultimately lead to total number of connections that would surpass all the atoms in the universe or 10 to the 100 power.
Now, imagine if the insulation on each wire started to disintegrate. Their would be a dysfunction in the whole system. You see, each nerve cell has a myelin sheath around the axon. That is like the insulation around copper wire. Both the axon process and copper wire need insulation to fully function. Short-circuits can happen.
That is where Vitamin B-12 comes into play. It helps to build the myelin by bringing methyl groups to each nerve cell. B-12 is also used in other parts of the brain as a “detoxifier” in stopping the effect of glutamate (which leaves the brain in a hyperactive state). Here’s the kicker, the only form of Vitamin B-12 that works in the brain is methylcobalamin.
Vitamin B-12 comes in both a natural and synthetic form. Methylcobalamin is created from the natural form (hydroxocobalamin). The synthetic form (cyanocobalamin) can’t be used by our nervous system. And that’s the one you’d get at the store and it’s cheap. Even the natural form has to broken down in one’s small intestine to be converted to methylcobalamin. And this take good gut health. Many older people suffer from bad gut health. Due to this, even meat-eaters have low B-12 levels. Vegans suffer from B-12 deficiency quite a bit.
If you’re a vegan or an older animal protein eater, you may want to use patches, sublingual or injections that use the methylcobalamin form of B-12. This goes directly into the blood without having to be broken down (since it’s already converted).
Keep your nervous system healthy with the right form and enough of Vitamin B-12.
America’s #1 Mind-Body Transformation Expert and author of Mind Your Own Fitness
You just love chocolate don’t you? So do I. I always get asked this question ‘Is chocolate okay to eat?’ I emphatically respond with a resounding YES! But there is small catch…the chocolate I recommend has a very high cacao content – over 70%.
It is also important to be mindful of the fat content which is very high. The great news is that the higher the cacao content, the less chocolate you will eat. I find it amazing when I eat an 88% cacao chocolate how just one small piece does the trick.
Very dark chocolate is nutrient dense and provides many health benefits so you can classify it as a super food. Dark chocolate is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant chemicals that will help create super health.
So this Valentine’s Day, as well as each and every day, don’t feel guilty about indulging in chocolate.
Happy Valentine’s Day!