July 10, 2018
Apple chips. Coconut flakes. Roasted nuts. Standing in the “natural” section of the airport newsstand with nary a candy bar in sight, I felt proud, self-righteous and uber-healthy. I had not been lulled by the siren song of Cinnabon, nor had I fallen prey to the Starbucks bakery case or, heaven forbid, the $12 preservative-infused “healthy” snack pack on the airplane.
I grabbed a bag of organic, low-calorie, spirulina-infused popcorn and glanced at the ingredients label:
Popcorn. Spirulina. Organic agave syrup. Canola oil.
I gulped, set the bag back down, and walked away – shocked that the villain canola oil is still being shoveled into our gaping maws as we innocently perceive ourselves to be nourishing our bodies with healthy, organic so-called “superfoods”. So why am I so adamantly opposed to something as seemingly inconsequential as a teaspoon of canola oil in a giant bag of spirulina popcorn? And why would I rather mow through an entire bag of pure, white sugar than eat a few french fries, an apple fritter doughnut or a big ol’ canola oil-soaked bag of so-called “healthy trail mix” from the gas station convenience store?
In this article, you’ll discover the answer to why processed popular oils are one of the worst things to which you can expose your brain, and you’ll also discover other all-too-common compounds that damage your noggin, along with the best foods, nutrients and diet-optimizing strategies for your brain.
Brain Food 101
You are what you eat. You’ve probably heard this phrase before, along with the slightly less well-known but equally important phrase “you are what you eat ate”. Yes, that’s right: you better think twice about whether your steak ate grass vs. GMO corn, your chicken ate bugs vs. herbicide-laden grains or your fish ate worms vs. pieces of other dead fish ground up with fish farm meal. Nowhere is this truer and more applicable than when it comes to fueling your brain.
I first understood the intense importance of this concept when I interviewed Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of the book “Deep Nutrition”, who believes that a high “crappy fat” intake that includes the vegetable oils and trans fats found in foods such as french fries, doughnuts and even “healthy” packaged foods is actually far worse than a high-sugar diet. This is most likely why Dr. Shanahan has switched the professional sports teams she works with to staples like bone broth, tubers, organic dairy, bone marrow, seeds, nuts, vegetables, grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish (full disclosure: this is a controversial strategy she’s caught some flack for, primarily because I think many pro athletes begin to adopt a healthy diet with adequate fats, which I do indeed endorse, but also shove overall carbs and calories too low).
Why is this whole fat thing so important? Because you’re fat. No, I don’t mean that you are fat. But you are, at a fundamental level, comprised of fat. Your body actually uses fat from your diet to form and protect the most well-known aspect of your body: cells. Every living cell in your body has a membrane around it that’s responsible for allowing compounds in and out of the cell so it can function properly, like a well-oiled car engine.
Although there are other components to a cell membrane, these membranes are comprised primarily of the fats that you get from food. This means that the state your cells are in, how flexible the membranes are and how permeable they are to nutrients is dependent on the amount and, even more importantly, the quality of the fats you get from your diet. For example, if your diet is high in damaged fatty acids like those found in corn oil, canola oil, safflower or sunflower oil, or if your diet is high in trans fats, or if the fish oil you’re taking is rancid and exposed to too much light and warmth, or if the steak you’re eating is a slab from a big ol’ corn and grain-fed cow, then those damaged fats are what get incorporated into the building blocks of your precious cell membranes, and your brain and nervous system become comprised of the foods that you eat and the foods that what you eat ate.
These damaged, highly reactive fats are found most notoriously in most brands of potato chips, french fries, fried packaged foods and pretty much any other food with fat that’s been heated at too high of a temperature for that fat to remain stable or has been exposed to too high of a pressure for that fat to retain it’s natural structure. A common example is olive oil that’s been heated far above 400 degrees F. and has been fried multiple times. Although a spicy, dense, flavonol-rich extra virgin olive oil is great for you, you can find damaged olive oil at many high-class restaurants without even knowing it, along with olive oil that has been cut half-and-half with canola oil to save money (as you’ll discover if you listen to my audio with Dr. Shanahan here, this even happens at five star Napa Valley restaurants!). Your cell membranes incorporate these fats, wrap the rest of the cell in these fats, and voila! You have quite literally become what you ate: crappy, damaged olive oil.
No other organ demonstrates this better than the brain. There are copious amounts of fat in brain cell membranes and neurons. These fats insulate your brain, protect it from shock and help your nervous system to maintain a healthy temperature. The transmission of electrical signals across neuron synapses is also dependent on fatty acids, as are neurotransmitter levels, which control mood and sleep. These fats, like all other cellular lipids in your body, are also – you guessed it – comprised of the fats from your diet.
This is why I’d rather mow through an entire bag of sugar than consume just about any popular fried food on the face of the planet. The sugar isn’t going to serve as the building blocks of my body. Sure, sugar can spike my blood glucose, cause some vascular inflammation, produce gastric bloat and cause a big surge of insulin, but at least I can drop and do some burpees or go for a run or eat some bitter melon extract, Ceylon cinnamon, and apple cider vinegar and negate most of the damage by lowering the sugar spike or burning the sugar away (you’ll learn more about these strategies in my blood sugar controlling article here). You simply can’t do that with bad fats: they’re going to get incorporated into your cell membranes whether you exercise or not, and there is no way to undo the damage. So hand me a stick of cotton candy and a bag of potato chips, and I’ll eat the cotton candy, hands down.
But the fact that your body and brain are built from the fats that you eat is not the only reason to be careful with damaged fats. There’s another reason that a diet that includes these type of fats isn’t doing you any favors: inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to infection and tissue damage and is even important for muscle growth after exercise, but chronic inflammation can lead to a number of issues diseases, from obesity and muscle loss to atherosclerosis and arthritis. According to many nutritionists and scientific studies, sugar is the most inflammatory aspect of any diet. But sugar, although inflammatory, isn’t as terrible as processed oils are.
Processed oils like canola or vegetable oil are, as you’ve already seen, widespread. Most can be classified as polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable and prone to the type of oxidative damage that is highly detrimental to your cells, including the neurons in your brain. Oxidants, which are electron transfer agents within the body, aren’t unnatural and are by-products of normal metabolic processes in your cells. But when they run rampant through your body, they cause inflammation and extensive damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids, which can result in cardiovascular disease, immune system deficits, and, not surprisingly, brain dysfunction.
So the first step in any brain fueling strategy must begin with eliminating every source of overheated, overpressured vegetable oils and polyunsaturated fats, and replacing them with healthy fats and cholesterols, which, in contrast to processed oils, are some of the best fuels for the brain and are a perfectly natural human food. As Dr. Shanahan writes in “Deep Nutrition”:
“… a necessary outgrowth of the indictment of cholesterol is a rejection of the traditional, natural fats that have sustained humankind for thousands of generations. It’s a little like the idea that Nestle successfully used in the 1940’s to sell infant formula to my grandmother and many other women, claiming it was “more perfect than breastmilk.” Those who mean to replace natural, traditional foods with modern-day food-like products in the name of health are championing the position that nature doesn’t know best; a corporation does. This is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence – a burden they have failed to meet.”
She goes on to explain how fat, for centuries, has been an integral part of many ancestral diets. For example, the northern European diet is high in fatty fish, red meat and fermented, full-fat dairy products, which means that if your ancestors are northern Europeans, you’ve inherited a wealth of genes that rely heavily on fats. The same concept applies to a traditional Mediterranean diet. Although a Mediterranean diet also includes ample carbohydrates like bread and pasta, in coastal countries such as Italy, a large part of the daily meal plan includes fish, nuts, full-fat milk and cheeses like pecorino or mozzarella di bufala (along with plenty of fasting and periods of food restriction, a concept you can discover more about in my fasting podcast with Dr. Jason Fung).
Because your brain is comprised of and uses so much fat (60% of your brain is fat), a diet that is either low-fat, fat-free or consists of inflammatory fats can have a significant deleterious impact on cognitive health. There are several notable exceptions to this rule, including certain population groups who can get by on less fat, but for now, the important takeaway is that processed, damaged fats are bad for the brain and that healthy, natural fats are some of the best fuels you can give to your brain.
You’d be truly surprised at how many “healthy” or organic foods and so-called “superfoods” are actually chock-full of rancid, damaged oils, just like the spirulina-infused popcorn I encountered in the airport. Don’t be fooled by the fancy labels and certifications on the packaging: these oils have oozed into bags and containers extending far beyond the obvious threats like french fries, doughnuts, potato chips, and cookies. Here’s a list of 20 common “health” foods that may contain these rancid fatty acids:
-Pasteurized dairy products such as commercially-produced milk, cheeses, and butter – yes, even many organic yogurts.
-Organic packaged pasta and rice meals (the “healthy” equivalents to Rice-A-Roni and similar meals).
-Many big-name trail mix blends, often marketed as high-protein, low-sugar trail snacks.
-Many brands of organic nut spreads such as almond butter, cashew butter and peanut butter.
-Store-bought bags of peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc., including many of the nut mixes in bulk foods sections of the grocery store.
-“Healthy” baking chocolate/semi-sweet chocolate (often marked as organic or non-GMO)
-Many store-bought sauces, even those advertised as low-calorie.
-Gluten-free or organic cereal bars such as granola bars and many popular protein bars.
-Most salad dressings.
-“Healthy”, non-GMO vegetable chips, sweet potato chips, coconut chips and other chips.
-Gluten-free, organic packaged pretzels, cookies and rice or multi-grain crackers.
-Fried eggs at many breakfast and brunch joints, or any eggs prepared with high heat.
-The “healthy” sauteed foods at restaurants, such as fish, leafy greens, etc.
-Many dairy-free ice creams, including those made with coconut, cashew or almond milk.
-Butter substitutes and spreadable fats like margarine.
-Pre-made packaged popcorn, especially cheddar-flavored or caramel popcorns.
-Both dairy and non-dairy coffee creamers.
-Most popular frozen meals marketed as healthy.
-Frozen gluten-free and organic pizzas.
The best defense? Check labels!
10 Foods That Break Your Brain
The truth is, damaged fats and vegetable oils aren’t the only food groups that can break your brain. Here are a ten additional food groups to be very careful with if your goal is total brain optimization:
#1: High Histamine Foods
Histamines are compounds released by white blood cells called “mast cells” as part of an immune response to stressors like cuts, scrapes, and allergens. Once released, they dilate blood capillaries and increase blood flow to the stressed area (such as your nasal cavities during allergy season), resulting in a state of inflammation.
Problem is, excesses of histamine can also cause brain fog and headaches. For example, systemic mastocytosis is a mast cell disorder associated with psychiatric manifestations such as diminished attention and memory, proneness to anger, irritability, and depression. This is all due to an increase in brain inflammation brought on by histamines. While low levels of histamines are necessary for brain function, motor activity, circadian rhythms and more, excessive levels cause parts of the brain to shut down in an inflammatory response.
One way to combat excess histamine in the brain, especially if you are sensitive to histamines (the best test for this is the “Stratagene” analysis by Dr. Ben Lynch) is to avoid high consumption of foods that contain large levels of histamines, including:
-Fermented beverages such as wine, beer and kombucha. I personally limit myself to one such drink per day (yes, this means if you drink a giant kombucha with lunch, you may want to consider foregoing your nightly glass of wine, and vice versa).
-Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, vinegar, soy sauce, kefir and yogurt. I eat these foods but treat them more as “condiments” than as major components of my diet.
-Vinegar-soaked foods such as pickles and olives.
-Cured or smoked meats such as bacon, salami, hot dogs and smoked fish.
-Soured foods such as sour cream, sour milk and buttermilk.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to completely rip the charcuterie platter out from your gaping maw. But what I am saying is that these foods, when consumed as consistent staples in your diet, can cause rampant histamine levels. If you have histamine issues such as brain fog and headaches, you should consider reducing your intake of these products and incorporating staple foods that contain lower amounts of histamines, such as:
-Freshly cooked (not smoked cured and preserved) meat, fish and poultry
-Low-gluten grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff
-Fresh fruits such as mango, pear, watermelon, apple, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapes
-Fresh vegetables instead of canned or preserved vegetables
–Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
-Leafy herbs such as parsley and cilantro, along with herbal teas
#2: Glucose Fluctuating Foods
The problems don’t stop there. Within your brain are cells called microglia and astrocytes. When these cells are stimulated with sugar as their primary source of fuel, along with exposure to frequent fluctuations in blood glucose, they can cause chronic neuroinflammation, which leads to neuronal loss and progression in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. High blood glucose levels increase both secretion of various compounds by astrocytes and the susceptibility of neuronal cells and injury by hydrogen peroxide in the brain, meaning that neuronal deterioration leading to progression of neural issues is likely mediated by poor glucose regulation, which, as stated above, results from a diet too high in sugar, starch and excess carbohydrates. My friend Dr. Nora Gedgaudas refers to this as the neuronal equivalent of a bunch of tiny, rabid chihuahuas (hyped up brain cells) sprinting around in your brain while firing off machine guns.
Another condition that can arise from a high amount of glucose fluctuation is hyperinsulinemia which, in turn, causes hypoglycemia and neuroglycopenia (a shortage of glucose in the brain that affects neuronal function) and ultimately brain damage. The exact opposite effect is achieved by a low-carb, high-fat diet, periods of intermittent fasting, and a ketogenic diet, which improves insulin signaling and reduces the side effects associated with rollercoaster blood sugar patterns. In fact, one study showed that after just six months of a ketogenic diet that restricted blood sugar fluctuations, one patient diagnosed with congenital hyperinsulinism was free of epileptic crises and showed marked recovery in psychological development. Mary Newport, author of the book “Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure? The Story of Ketones”, improved her husband’s condition under Alzheimer’s by means of coconut oil derived ketones. The vast majority of people who have followed the same or similar diets to the one she prescribes have reported improvements in cognitive function. Finally, in his impressive book “The End Of Alzheimer's”, author Dr. Dale Bredesen highly recommends a plant-dense, mildly ketogenic diet that includes sugar restriction, 10-15 servings of vegetables per day, and at least 12 hours of intermittent fasting per 24-hour cycle. If you’re a highly active individual, then you still need some amount of carbohydrates for your liver and muscle glycogen stores, your joints and other tissues that need some amounts of sugar, but even these should be consumed before, during or after physical activity, when these carbs are far less likely to cause rampant glucose fluctuations.
#3: Artificially Sweetened Foods
In light of all of the ill effects that excessive sugar intake can exert on your brain, it might seem reasonable to turn to artificial sweeteners and sugar alternatives, right?
As reasonable as this may seem, artificial sweeteners have lately come under fire due to their neurotoxic properties. In fact, in many animal studies, researchers have convincingly shown that artificial sweeteners can cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and carcinogenicity in humans. There are five artificial sweeteners on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list of additives: saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, and acesulfame potassium, but this doesn’t mean they’re optimum brain fuel. What’s also disconcerting is that artificial sweeteners are regulated by means of their Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), similar to toxic substances like pesticides.
Take aspartame, for example. When aspartame temperatures exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the wood alcohol aspartame contains converts to formaldehyde (embalming fluid, anyone?) which then converts to formic acid and causes a state of metabolic acidosis, which is a chemical imbalance in which your body contains or produces more acid than it can efficiently remove. In addition, one of aspartame’s metabolic byproducts is the amino acid phenylalanine. One in 20,000 people is born with a genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU). People with this condition cannot metabolize phenylalanine, and these amino acids can then accumulate and can cause brain damage. But even if you aren’t one of those 20,000 folks, phenylalanine can still cause brain DNA and protein damage.
#4: Condiment-laden Foods
As you may already know, soy sauce contains a lot of sodium. In fact, one tablespoon contains nearly 40% of your daily recommended sodium intake. One of the things that an excessively high sodium intake can cause is hypertension, which in turn causes blood vessels, including those in your brain, to narrow and weaken. Hypertension can also lead to transient ischemic attack (a temporary disruption of blood to the brain), stroke, dementia, and mild cognitive impairment. Hypertension can cause a myriad of other issues, including kidney failure, kidney artery aneurysm, retinopathy (eye blood vessel damage), sexual dysfunction, bone loss, coronary artery disease, enlarged left heart, heart failure, aneurysm, complications during pregnancy, aortic dissection (severe damage to the body’s main artery), and obstructive sleep apnea. Please don’t interpret this to mean that “salt is bad”, because natural salt, such as Himalayan or Celtic salt chock full of beneficial minerals, is actually quite good for you. But the extreme, unbalanced levels of sodium chloride found in average table salt, soy sauce, marinades, soups, mustard and many other packaged foods, along with your favorite condiments, are a notorious contributor to chronic hypertension.
If the salt level of condiments isn’t enough to steer you clear, you may also want to consider the high amount of refined, processed vegetable oils in most mayonnaise and salad dressings, the neurotoxins chloropropanol and salsolinol in soy sauce, the high fructose corn syrup in barbeque sauce and beyond. When it comes to condiments, check the labels and stick to the natural stuff, such as Primal Kitchen, Maranatha, Annie’s Naturals, Trader Joe’s or your own homemade versions. If you'd like, you can read this article to see just a few of the healthy foods in my pantry that fit this bill.
#5: Trans Fats
Small amounts of the unsaturated fatty acids called “trans fats” occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb and butterfat. But most trans fats found in most folks’ diets these days are industrially manufactured and occur in manufactured cooking oils, where they form as a byproduct of the process of hydrogenation. Just about convenient, spreadable oil such as margarine, frosting or vegetable oils you find on grocery store shelves contain extremely volatile and highly oxidative trans fat. Most cakes, cookies, pie crusts and crackers also contain shortening, which is usually made from trans fat rich, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. High trans fat blood levels have been directly associated with poor cognitive function and low total cerebral brain volume, along with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, low birth rate, obesity and immune dysfunction, they also affect memory and increase brain inflammation.
For example, one study observed the effects of dietary trans fat on the word recall of 1018 young men and women. The researchers discovered that the higher the dietary trans fat levels, the worse the word recall was. Trans fats also negatively impact oxidative stress and promote endothelial dysfunction, which is a blood vessel malfunction that limits blood flow and the delivery of energy substrates to cells and tissues. Since your memory is particularly sensitive to cellular energy effects, the effects of trans fat can create a very negative impact on memory function.
#6: Gluten-containing Foods
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, including wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, graham, rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. But because of its inherent stickiness and ability to create digestive difficulties, gluten has become the ultimate social pariah among health enthusiasts and hippies alike. Indeed, although they’re less common than many folks claim, gluten intolerances and even allergies can be a legitimate problem and can even create cause serious health complications such as gut damage, autoimmune diseases and neural inflammation.
Even if you don’t have an intolerance or allergy to digesting gluten, and even if it doesn’t seem to cause perceivable issues for your gut, gluten can still cause major problems for your brain. Dr. David Perlmutter, a renowned neurologist, wrote the book “Grain Brain” to reveal how excess carbohydrates, especially gluten-containing foods, can cause a host of neurological problems, including dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (the part of your nervous system responsible for automatic actions such as breathing and digestion), cerebellar ataxia (inflammation or damage of the cerebellum, causing loss of fine motor skill), hypotonia (low muscle tone), developmental delay, learning disorders, depression, migraine and headaches. In fact, recent research has even connected gluten sensitivity with neuropsychiatric conditions like autism, schizophrenia and even hallucinations.
However, there is relief from gluten’s reign of terror on your nervous system. For example, gluten can be broken down via the process of fermentation, which is why some of the only bread I eat is my wife Jessa’s absolutely mouth-watering homemade sourdough bread. Sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases can, through the process of slow-fermentation, eliminate gluten toxicity (and, as a bonus, also lower the glycemic index of the bread). In contrast, modern practices of using ordinary yeasts to prepare the grain do not break down gluten and other proteins.
Sprouting is also another grain-preparation technique that may reduce the effect gluten has on your nervous system. There is a lot of debate over this technique and there’s no conclusive evidence to support it, but many alternative diet and health experts recommend sprouting of grains. The basic idea behind sprouting is that as a seed germinates, chemical processes occur within the seed that break down certain molecules. For example, the germinating seed taps into and metabolizes stored carbohydrates to fuel its growth. In addition, storage proteins such as gluten may be partially hydrolyzed (broken down in a chemical reaction with water) but not completely degraded. Other sources claim that during the sprouting process, gluten gets broken down by the seedling as it taps into the energy contained within the endosperm. Sprouting also releases vitamins, minerals and other bioactive components that would otherwise be unavailable to your body from the grain.
Ultimately, gluten-free foods can be chock full of just as many chemicals, preservatives and high sugar content as gluten-containing foods, and unless you have a condition such as celiac disease or you’re fighting a leaky gut from years of poor eating or dirty living, your goal shouldn’t be to avoid gluten entirely, but rather to eat gluten-containing grains only when they’re ancestrally prepared via processes such as fermentation and sprouting, to think twice before snagging any old “healthy” goodie from the organic coffee shop bakery case, and to support your ability to be able to digest gluten by limiting the guts exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. Read this article for plenty more tips on getting a healthy gut.
#7: Heavy Metals
Have you ever heard of the Mad Hatter? The term “mad as a hatter” is most commonly associated with Lewis Carroll's classic children's book, “Alice in Wonderland.” But the true origin of the phrase refers to a disease found amongst the hat making industry in the 1800s, where a mercury solution was often used during the process of turning fur into felt. When the hat-makers inhaled the fumes of this highly toxic metal, mercury accumulated in their bodies, resulting in symptoms such as loss of coordination, slurred speech, loose teeth, memory loss, depression, irritability and anxiety – a cluster of effects that came to be known as “The Mad Hatter Syndrome.”
Mercury, found all-too-often in dental amalgams, fish, vaccines and coal-burning power plants, isn’t the only heavy metal that can turn you into a Mad Hatter. Aluminum, arsenic, lead, lithium, manganese, and thallium are also highly neurotoxic and have a host of deleterious cognitive effects. For example, lead inhibits heme synthesis (heme is the nonprotein part of hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen in your blood) and can also affect brain function by interfering with neurotransmitters and methylmercury damages specific areas in the adult brain and especially developing nervous systems.
Now, here’s the thing: there are a plethora of ways to detox your body, including ingesting charcoal and algae species like chlorella. But if you decide that you're going to detox metals from your body and you don't go about it with the correct methods, you can wind up with the same damage as the hatters. Why? In a nutshell, simply consuming copious amounts of charcoal or chlorella or any other popular detox supplement can be dangerous because these products are known as “weak binders”, meaning that rather than removing the toxins, they simply stir them up, allowing them to cross back into deeper tissues, most notably the brain. But using a true binding agent (or agents) in a properly structured detox protocol is critical to preventing re-circulation of toxins such as metals after they have moved out of the cell. My friend Dr. Dan Pompa, actually gave himself Mad Hatter's Disease by detoxing the wrong way, but then went on to develop a unique detoxification protocol he calls “True Cellular Detox“. I interviewed Dr. Dan about the ins and outs of his protocol, and you can listen to my extremely detailed podcast with him by clicking here.
In the meantime, you can make sure to be aware of and avoid foods that are high in heavy metals, including:
–Fish, especially larger fish or predatory fish such as king mackerel, bigeye tuna, shark and swordfish (mercury).
-Processed or powdered bone broth from non-organic sources (lead)
–High amounts of brown rice (arsenic)
–Refined wheat flour (cadmium)
-Soft drinks from machines (the machine may have cadmium in the pipes)
-Canned foods (lead)
#8: Lipopolysaccharides (LPS)
Broadly speaking, an endotoxin is “any metabolite or cell wall constituent released by gut bacteria that damages human physiology”. Lipopolysaccharides, also known as lipoglycans, are large molecules found in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. They consist of a lipid and a polysaccharide composed of an O-antigen, an outer core and an inner core joined by a covalent bond. Most importantly, LPS’s are definitely classified in research as endotoxins. 25% to 33% of the small molecules in human blood are derived from gut bacteria and include LPS’s. When these blood endotoxin levels get too high, you wind up with metabolic endotoxemia, which is associated with many less-than-favorable conditions, including cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, T2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity and, last but not least, stroke. Interestingly, one of the contributing factors to higher risk of LPS-caused metabolic endotoxemia is a high-fat diet.
Wait a minute! Haven’t I already claimed multiple times that fats are good for your nervous system? They are, but here’s the deal: high-fat diets also have the potential to induce endotoxemia. The problems that accompany a high-fat intake arise when you consume a high-fat intake along with a high-carbohydrate intake – the classic potato chip, pork rind, cheesecake, baked goodie, follow-up-you-ribeye-steak-with-a-chocolate-souffle type diet. I have indeed witnessed a fair share of “healthy eaters” complain about endotoxemia-like brain fog, then continue to mow down on dark chocolate peanut-butter cups, roasted chicken glazed in brown sugar, and oodles of avocados on rice crackers. These are all perfect example deleterious high-fat, high-carb combos, especially when consumed as staples in the diet. And yes, this even means that if one of your favorite meals (like mine) is, for example, a nice, fatty cut of ribeye steak with sweet potato fries, you’d want to go easy on the fries, especially if cognitive performance is your primary objective.
Endotoxemia is also associated with systemic inflammation because one of the primary factors involved in this type of full-body inflammation is an increase in intestinal barrier permeability. When your intestinal barrier permeability increases, it allows more (and bigger) particles into your blood system, including LPS’s. This means that any strategy to reduce your circulating levels of endotoxins must include the type of anti-inflammatory gut strategies I talk about here and a focus on reducing glucose fluctuations, especially if you eat a high-fat diet.
#9: Moldy Foods
The word “mold” conjures images of gross decaying corpses, very old hamburger meat in your refrigerator or a nasty growth on your shower wall. Mold is different from plants, animals and bacteria, and is instead a collection of microorganisms that are decomposers of dead organic material such as leaves, wood and plants. The tiny spores and hair-like bodies of individual mold colonies are too small for us to see without a microscope but constantly float about in the air around us. One of the most detrimental aspects of certain molds are mycotoxins, which are toxic substances produced by mold, that can create a host of adverse health effects in humans, especially when it comes to mental function. For example, high amounts of indoor mold exposure can alter blood flow to the brain, affect autonomic nerve function and brain waves, and diminish concentration, attention, balance and memory. The presence of mold in houses can impair the cognitive development of young children, as well as cause hemorrhagic infarcts (areas of dead tissue caused by blocked veins) in both cerebral hemispheres and in the cerebellum of the brain. People who suffer from toxic mold exposure can go from being a highly-efficient pattern-analyst to experiencing insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and confusion, and diagnosis of depression and even bipolar disorder.
Fortunately, you can have tests such as an ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) performed by a licensed contractor to determine if your house has mold in it. But the primary source of exposure to mycotoxins isn’t household mold in nooks and crannies you haven’t cleaned in a few days but is instead your diet. Mycotoxins are so prolifically dispersed throughout global agriculture that they’re virtually unavoidable in the average modern diet.
Now don’t confuse “moldy” with “fermented”. You’re not necessarily exposed to mycotoxins if you eat fermented foods such as cheese, pickles, buttermilk, sour cream and smoked fish, although as you’ve already learned, you do need to moderate these foods if you have histamine sensitivities, and then can, especially when consumed in high amounts, place you at higher risk for mycotoxin exposure. However, some foods have been proven to be more concentrated sources of mycotoxins. For example, commercially-grown corn is typically sprayed with heavy amounts of pesticides that can cause a mutation in fungi that colonize corn. The fungi develop to grow in corn roots and pump toxins directly into the plant. Other common crops, including barley, wheat, peanut and, to the chagrin of caffeine enthusiasts worldwide, coffee can also be notoriously high in mycotoxins, especially if you consume these common foods from non-organic sources.
The good news is that research indicates that you can minimize the impact mycotoxins have in your body when you use antioxidants such as superoxide anion scavengers, especially if you’re concerned that you’ve been exposed to mycotoxin-contaminated foods (or a moldy hotel room or apartment).
#10: Smart Drugs
A smart drug is, generally speaking, a prescribed medication or off-label drug used to treat some kind of mental or cognitive disorder. Please note that there are distinct differences between synthetic smart drugs and herbal or natural food based “nootropics” such as Lion’s Mane mushroom, Gingko Biloba or Bacopa Monnieri. For example, the synthetic chemical Adderall (dextroamphetamine) is one of the most popular smart drugs, and the smart drugs modafinil and Ritalin follow close behind.
Stimulant-class drugs tend to produce spikes in dopamine and norepinephrine, which leads to tolerance and habit formation; tolerance is particularly dangerous because as you become more tolerant to the drug, you need more of it to notice its effects. That, in turn, leads to negative effects on things like appetite, mood stability, and stress levels. True nootropics, on the other hand, do not seem to lead to tolerance or habit formation, neurotransmitter depletion, or impaired cognitive function. In fact, nootropics seem to even protect and develop the brain. The nootropic piracetam, discovered in the 1960s, and its relatives like oxiracetam and nefiracetam can even reverse amnesia induced by electroconvulsive shock and hypoxia and reduce the potency of dementia.
A general rule of thumb is that if something is strongly “felt” dose-to-dose and makes you high, wired or sedated, it’s a smart drug or performance enhancer, but it’s not a nootropic. Nootropics are sustainable, while those types of drugs are not. If, however, you do have a prescription for Adderall or a similar stimulant, it’s critical that you be careful not to slip into overdosing, even if just by a little — people who take stimulant-class drugs without a prescription should also, at the very least, be cautious as well. Smart drugs do not support natural cognitive processes, can be toxic and may depress or overstimulate the brain and cause side effects like the ones mentioned above, or even death. You can learn more about nootropics vs. smart drugs in this article.
How To Eat Yourself Smart
Although the variety of foods and dietary practices you’ve just discovered can deleteriously affect your brain, the fact is that you not only combat and even reverse the damage, but you can also eat yourself smart with three specific eating strategies, along with a small collection of proven foods and supplements.
-Dietary Strategy #1: Ketosis
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which at least some of the body's energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood. This stands in stark contrast to a state of glycolysis, in which blood glucose provides the primary source of energy. Generally, ketosis occurs when the body is metabolizing fatty acids at a relatively high rate and converting those fatty acids into ketones.
The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920’s as a medical technique for decreasing the frequency of seizures in epileptic children. Although they didn’t fully understand the biological mechanism of how this worked, medical professionals at the time did at least know that elevated levels of ketones in the blood seemed to correlate with a significant decrease in epileptic episodes. Since then, ongoing research on strategies to elevate blood and brain ketones have revealed a variety of ways that a ketogenic diet improves brain function.
As you probably know from high school biology, mitochondria are the driving force of each cell in your body. When your mitochondria malfunction, they can’t produce enough energy for a variety of metabolic functions, and tissues with high energy demands such as the muscles, the heart, and the brain suffer, resulting in complications that include blindness, deafness, movement disorders, dementias, cardiomyopathy, myopathy, renal dysfunction, and aging. Ketosis is effective at reversing mitochondrial dysfunction because it increases mitochondrial biogenesis (mitochondria generation) and oxidative energy production, particularly in neural tissue. So by improving the number and energetic output of the mitochondria in your brain, you enable yourself to produce a significantly higher amount of cognitive output.
Ketone metabolism is also known to create much lower levels of oxidative stress than glucose metabolism, resulting in reduced inflammation and improved mitochondrial health. This is especially important for your brain, since neurodegenerative disorders that are characterized by demyelination, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), are thought to be heavily influenced by chronic inflammation. It’s also thought that fasting or a fasting-mimicking diet (such as a ketogenic diet or the use of exogenous ketone supplements in the diet) can improve neurodegenerative disorders by upregulating BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This upregulation of BDNF combats neurodegeneration by supporting the continued growth and development of neuronal connections. A ketogenic diet has also been proven to help facilitate the conversion of glutamate into the neurotransmitter GABA. This is also important since chronically elevated glutamate levels can overstimulate brain cells and lead to neural inflammation.
Although many people are aware that limited carbohydrates and eating slower burning fuels such as healthy fats can help control hunger and reduce body weight via improved fat metabolism, what they aren’t aware of are the ketogenic benefits that go much deeper on a cellular level.
Depending on your level of physical activity, it’s typical that after fasting for 16-72 hours or by reducing your daily carbohydrate intake to below 20-60 grams per day, your body’s depleted glucose reserves become insufficient for normal fat oxidation and for supplying glucose to your central nervous system. As your body’s glucose reserves are depleted, the mitochondrial matrix in the liver begins to produce the three different ketone bodies: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyric acid, and acetone. These are derived from excess acetyl-CoA (a key molecule in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids) that accumulates as you begin to metabolize more fats. This entire process is called ketogenesis. The ketone bodies are then converted back into other compounds and metabolized into energy in your cells, including cells in your brain (the brain cannot use fatty acids for energy and instead normally relies upon glucose is its normal fuel, but can also use ketones).
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily endorse a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet for everyone, and you’ll learn plenty more about how to customize your diet in this article. But when it comes to the brain, ketones are the cleanest-burning fuel you can provide, and a ketogenic diet, the use of exogenous ketones and frequent periods of fasting are all highly useful strategies to achieve greater clarity, laser-like focus, and performance-grade cognition. One of the best and most comprehensive books I’ve ever read on ketosis is “The Keto Bible” by my friend Ryan Lowery, and you can grab it here.
-Dietary Strategy #2: Fasting
In the above section on ketogenic dieting, I briefly alluded to fasting as a strategy for entering a state of ketosis – but fasting accomplishes far more than that and is, in fact, a potent way to both heal your brain and protect it from future damage. But before jumping into how fasting works, it’s important to understand the distinction between fasting and caloric restriction. Caloric restriction is an intentional reduction of your daily or weekly caloric intake. Generally speaking, it works on a “calories-in-calories-out” basis, in which “energy output>energy input” in order to force the body to burn its own fat for energy (see this article for more on that). Fasting, on the other hand, especially intermittent fasting, does not necessarily require caloric restriction but instead alterations in caloric timing. It involves not eating for certain parts of the day, then eating within a limited window of time, called a compressed feeding window. So it means you don’t eat need to eat less, but rather that you need to eat less often. As a matter of fact, even on days for which I perform a 24 hour fast, such as when I stop eating after dinner on Saturday and don’t eat again until dinner on Sunday, I’ll often eat in excess of 2500 calories for the Sunday dinner. My friend Todd White, who fasts each day until dinner, acts quite similarly and although his metabolism is healthy and his weight is stable, will often punish an entire bottle of organic wine and an enormous slab of meat, salmon, hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise and other calorically-dense and scrumptious fare with dinner.
So why is it important to make this distinction? Frankly, many lean, highly active people attempt to engage in frequent 12-16 hour intermittent, regular 24 hour fasts or 3-5 day fasts, then encounter thyroid downregulation, hormone depletion, low energy and poor sleep because they’re attempting to marry calorie-restricted based fasting with an extremely active, high-calorie burning lifestyle and a body that doesn’t have a ton of energy stores to contribute to the equation. In other words, if you’re overweight, obese, sedentary or in need of giving your gut a serious break from calories, you can still get the neural benefits of fasting without actual calorie restriction.
But don’t get me wrong: calorie restriction can certainly be good for you. In fact, an old Confucian principle that certain long-lived Asiatic people groups abide by is hara hachi bu – eat until you are 80% full (a loose translation). But fasting, and especially short bursts of intermittent fasting, can be a particularly powerful method of both losing fat and improving brain health and cognition without necessarily requiring calorie restriction (although it often leads to a roughly 20-30% daily caloric reduction).
One of the ways that intermittent fasting improves brain function has to do with a process called “neuronal autophagy”. Neuronal autophagy is the intentional and healthy self-destruction of neural cells to make room for new cell growth. Abnormal or restricted autophagic activity is associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a degeneration of motor neurons of the central nervous system). This is primarily because when you have elevated levels of insulin in your blood from constant feeding (particularly on sugars and proteins), neuronal autophagic activity is reduced, and you can wind up with metabolic dysregulation and degenerative neural conditions. Intermittent fasting can lower insulin levels, which allows the brain to engage in neuronal autophagy, and this, in turn, has been shown to promote improved cognitive function. Intermittent fasting also reduces inflammation, including neuroinflammation induced by lipopolysaccharides (which I mentioned earlier in the section on endotoxemia).
There are several variations of fasting, and entire books written on fasting and intermittent fasting (including the excellent “Complete Guide To Fasting” by Dr. Jason Fung), but in sum, the most common variations are the 12-12 strategy and the 16-8 strategy. The 12-12 strategy involves 12 hours of fasting, followed by 12 hours in which to eat your meals. This is a relatively simple habit to include on a daily basis, even for very active individuals, and since it only takes about 12 hours for your body to fully digest and detox, you still begin to get the neural benefits of fasting. As you probably guessed, a 16 hour intermittent fast can even better for health benefits, since 16 hours is the point at which a greater amount of cellular autophagy begins to occur, although for very lean, active individuals (especially women) this length of fasting – even without calorie restriction – seems to be capable of causing some hormonal and metabolic issues.
-Dietary Strategy #3: Feed Your Gut
The quality, quantity and composition of the bacteria in your gut has a profound influence on your brain. Dr. David Perlmutter explores this phenomenon in great detail in his book, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – for Life, in which he says:
“These hundred trillion bacteria that live within your gut are so intimately involved in your brain at a number of levels. They manufacture neurochemicals, for example. Things like dopamine and serotonin. They manufacture important vitamins that are important to keep your brain healthy. They also maintain the integrity of the lining of your gut.”
While the lining of your gut may not seem like it has much to do with the inside of your skull, it is especially important because when your gut lining is compromised, the result is permeability or leakiness of the gut. This then increases inflammation, which serves as a cornerstone of virtually all brain disorders, including Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and autism.
In his book, Dr. Perlmutter says:
“Being a brain specialist dealing with brain disorders, my whole career I've been stymied by not having really powerful tools to implement to bring about changes in individuals who have these issues. Now we're beginning to get those tools, and they are in the gut. Who knew? In neurology school, we didn't study the makeup of the gut bacteria and how that would ever influence the brain, and yet, this is leading-edge science. This is what our most well-respected researchers and peer-reviewed journals are talking about: not only are the gut bacteria fundamentally involved in brain health, but you can change the gut bacteria through interventions – taking probiotics and choosing to eat foods that are rich in prebiotics and to enhance the growth of good bacteria – and even more aggressive therapies [such as fecal transplants.]”
While I really don’t think a fecal transplant is necessary to optimize your brain, there are definitely key bacterial, gut-feeding strategies you can use to nourish and protect your microbiome and brain. Opt for whole, raw, organic, non-genetically modified (non-GMO) foods that are friendly to the gut lining integrity, along with traditionally fermented and cultured foods, including fermented vegetables of all kinds, sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha, and fiber-rich prebiotic foods including jicama (Mexican yam), Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, and dandelion greens. It’s important to note that store-bought, heat-pasteurized foods like sauerkraut often no longer contain any living bacteria, so be sure that the products you purchase do, in fact, contain living microorganisms.
In addition to the dietary strategies above, you can also support your gut and brain with the following compounds:
-Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
CLA is a fatty acid that has the capacity to positively modulate immune and inflammatory responses and may be helpful in protecting the brain. It is found in high concentrations in the meat and dairy of ruminants, which are animals that chew the cud, including cattle and sheep. A simple way to increase your CLA consumption is to incorporate grass-fed, grass-finished beef or lamb or raw dairy products from those animals into your diet.
Butyric acid, often referred to as butyrate, is a fatty acid found in milk, butter (hence the name) and cheese as a product of colonic fermentation of carbohydrates. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by inhibiting NF-κB-activation (pronounced “enn-eff-kappa-bee”) in epithelial cells of your colon. NF-κB regulates genes involved in immune inflammatory responses, so by shutting down diet- or microbiota-induced inflammation, butyrate helps to minimize the effects of inflammation on your central nervous system. Similarly to CLA, you can get more butyrate in your system by consuming grass-fed butter and other grass-fed dairy products.
GSH is a tripeptide comprised of cysteine, glycine and glutamic acid, and is produced and found in high concentrations in most cells in your body. It plays a critical role in shielding cells and cellular molecules from oxidants that originate both inside and outside the body and facilitates excretion of toxins from cells. It even helps to regenerate other antioxidants in the body, such as tocopherols and ascorbate. But, even though your body naturally produces GSH, maintenance of production requires adequate protein intake. So one way to make sure you get enough GSH is to include adequate sources of protein in your diet (at a range of 0.5-0.8g/lb).
You can also supplement with GSH. Supplemental GSH has been shown to aid not only as an antioxidant but also as an anti-aging compound and skin-health booster. Beyond the skin, however, the greatest uptake of supplemental GSH occurs in the kidneys, heart, lungs, small intestines and, significantly, the brain. To increase glutathione, you should consume foods that contain GSH precursors, including milk thistle, quality whey proteins, arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, methylation nutrient-containing foods like avocado, lentils, liver and garbanzo beans, brazil nuts, grass-fed beef and spinach. In addition, you can supplement your diet with GSH via sublingual glutathione, injectable glutathione, IV glutathione, or supplements.
Charcoal: I’ll readily admit that this next technique doesn’t have a great deal of research or science behind it, but several folks in the nutrition industry swear by carbon-rich supplements for decreasing neural oxidation and boosting brain performance – and one of the simplest, most convenient sources of carbon can be found in the form of activated charcoal (AC). The human body is built upon many chemical foundations, but the most basic building block of most cells in the body is carbon. By mass, carbon makes up about 18% of your body. It’s believed that exposure to charcoal and smoke (both of which are chock-full of carbon) from the hunter-gather days of human development is what fueled greater cognitive development. AC is charcoal that’s been treated with heat to enhance its potential as a toxin-sponge, and can even be used to soak up poisons that enter the digestive system. AC also supports brain health by soaking up toxins or heavy metals that can inhibit brain function and lead to things like brain fog, bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety disorder. Not all charcoal is created equal, however. For example, the charcoal briskets often used for grilling is chock full of toxins such as and probably isn’t a good idea to munch on. Instead, look for activated charcoal that’s specifically marked as a dietary supplement.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is a particular type of omega-3 fatty acid that is especially critical for the growth of the brain in infants but it’s also necessary in adults to maintain a properly functioning brain, and is extremely prevalent in the nervous system and neural tissues. DHA deficiencies are associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD, cystic fibrosis, phenylketonuria, unipolar depression, aggressive hostility, and adrenoleukodystrophy. That last one, despite being a mouthful, is especially dangerous: it refers to the loss of myelin, the fatty, protective coat that surrounds neurons in the brain. One study observed the effects of DHA supplementation on the memory and reaction times of young adults who had a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids and found that it did, in fact, improve both – particularly the episodic memory of the women, and the working memory of the men. Another study revealed that DHA prevented extraggression from increasing in young students during times of mental stress. I always wondered if this is why people who eat a very low-fat diet or who build up fatty acid deficiencies tend to be, in my opinion, a bit more moody or aggressive.
Fortunately, DHA isn’t difficult to incorporate into your diet. It’s one of the primary components in many species of shellfish and fish such as anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, and halibut. So for dense sources of DHA, you can either increase your seafood intake, use a high-quality brand of fresh, unoxidized fish oil, or both (I personally consume 10-15 grams of fish oil per day on days I don’t eat fish!). DHA is also readily available in eggs and grass-fed beef. Even if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can still get DHA, but it takes a bit more effort and expense. Algae sources like spirulina and chlorella contain high amounts of an alternate form known as DHEA. You may have heard that seeds and nuts like flaxseed, hemp seeds or chia seeds are also sources of DHA, but the truth is that your body’s ability to unlock those reserves and convert them into usable DHA is pretty low. But seeds and nuts and even some plants such as brussels sprouts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids called short-chain fatty acids, especially a fatty acid known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Although less potent than DHA, short-chain omega-3s act as neuroprotectors and are still beneficial for your cellular and brain health.
Finally, the following foods are ideal to include in your brain-boosting diet:
Avocados, already mentioned above, are beneficial on a number of levels. Their vitamin-K content helps to prevent blood clots in the brain, and they also act as an antioxidant in the brain of diabetic rats, along with improving the function of brain mitochondria. Avocados have also been shown to improve memory, spatial working memory, and sustained attention.
Juice from beets contain nitrates that increase blood nitric oxide levels, decrease blood pressure and improve cognitive performance. The nitric oxide from the nitrates of beet juice also helps to increase neurovascular function and circulation to the brain which, in turn, helps to prevent cerebral hypoperfusion (insufficient blood flow to the brain).
-Blueberries, Cocoa, and Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Blueberries, cocoa and coconut oil all contain high levels of flavonoids, flavonols and (in the case of coconut oil) medium-chain triglycerides that can help to protect the brain from oxidative stress. Coconut oil can also prevent memory loss that occurs with age.
Bone broth contains high levels of glycine, a nonessential amino acid that can improve neurological functions by enhancing memory.
-Broccoli and Eggs
Broccoli and egg yolk not only pair fantastically in an omelette, but both contain choline, which helps to improve both verbal and visual memory.
-Olive oil and Walnuts
One of the minor constituents of olive oil not yet discussed in this article is oleocanthal, which has to capacity to reduce the neuron-damaging effects of ADDLs (amyloid-beta derived diffusible ligands) and therefore has a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s Disease. Walnut extract can help also protect against the cell death and oxidative stress induced by ADDLs (109).
-Kale, Swiss chard, and Romaine Lettuce
Kale, swiss chard and romaine lettuce are examples of leafy green vegetables that, in addition to being nutrient-dense, can be beneficial in preventing cognitive impairment and dementia risk.
Rosemary extract is known to have strong antioxidant properties. In particular, carnosic acid occurs in high levels in rosemary leaves and is a research-based antioxidant that provides benefits for preventing chronic neurodegenerative disease.
Salmon is naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids and particularly boosts the phospholipid bilayer that encases each neural cell and beneficially modifies your synaptic membranes, which are the synapses in the space between two neurons across which neural information is sent.
Turmeric’s active ingredient is curcumin. Curcumin is known to be an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound that improves cognitive function in people suffering from Alzheimer’s and also improves uptake of amyloid-beta by your body’s phagocytic white blood cells, resulting in improved neuroprotection and lower inflammation in the central nervous system.
Here's just a few tasty ways you can use the variety of foods above:
-Slice an avocado and pour extra-virgin olive oil over the top with a pinch of sea salt, black pepper, turmeric, cayenne pepper, or fresh lime juice.
-Add avocado oil-based mayonnaise to a can of wild-caught salmon and wrap it all in a green lettuce leaf, a nori seaweed wrap or an almond, coconut or cassiva flour tortilla shell.
-Add flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds to grass-fed, organic plain yogurt with a sprinkling of organic blueberries, Ceylon cinnamon and vanilla extract, cinnamon or stevia drops.
-Smash an avocado with salt and pepper and smear onto a leafy green lettuce leaf or almond, coconut or cassava flour tortilla shell. Add organic, pastured scrambled eggs for a “breakfast burrito”.
-Bring a small container filled with extra-virgin olive oil when you travel or go out to restaurants to drench on your salad or meal, instead of eating the inflammatory vegetable oils most restaurants use (I’m personally notorious for showing up at restaurants with my own fancy oils and salts).
-Combine almond milk, sea salt, chia seeds, and stevia drops in a mason jar. Put the jar in the refrigerator for a quick grab-and-go breakfast of overnight chia pudding. Try adding additional nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds for more healthy fatty acids.
-Bake kale chips with avocado oil, sea salt and flaxseeds or ground cashews for a nutty flavor.
-Add a can of wild-caught sardines to a salad or over a bed of “Japanese yam” zero-calorie, zero-carb shirataki noodles for a rich protein and healthy fat meal (a few cans of sardines are also very easy to travel with).
As you can see, the brain-boosting foods you've just discovered can be easily combined to make a variety of quick, easy, chock-full-of-fat meals.
Congratulations: you’re now equipped with a complete grocery shopping strategy, food list, and supplement protocol for optimizing your neural function. Remember: the more clearly you can think, the faster you can react and remember, and the more robust your nervous system, the more equipped you are to live a more limitless life each day.
Finally, here’s one practical tip for optimizing brain health: the might avocado bowl. Each day this week, as you settle into the rhythm of healthy fat consumption, your task is to take an avocado, slice it in half, and drizzle it (or drench it, if the spirit so leads you) with a high quality, spicy, savory extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and whatever other zests might titillate your taste buds, including turmeric, black pepper, or (one of my favorites) a slab of mouth-watering coconut manna. For a snack, eat half the avocado, or for a full, surprisingly satiating meal, eat the whole thing over a bed of arugula or dark leafy greens.
19 thoughts on “Eat Yourself Smart: 10 Foods That Can Destroy Your Brain & How To Fuel Your Brain With The Best Cognitive-Boosting Alternatives.”
What is your take on dry roasting nuts? I’ve been soaking and roasting almonds/cashews/macadamias at 280F and find these golden nuggets so much more delicious than raw ones…
Ben, what is the best place to buy nutrient dense & digestible food in bulk (perhaps online)?
Is gradeseed oil something we should avoid?
Ben, Have you heard of Chiari Malformation? My mother has this terrible disease and has been through two brain surgeries. Do you have any scholarly information on the subject?
The avocado mayo I find in the stores still have soybean oil, is that ok to use?
I use this, which has no soybean oil: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/primalkitchen
Hi Ben, I love your work and am an avid reader. I have a question about Canola oil. You are very clear above that this is on the naughty list when it comes to fats that can get oxidised but I recently read in Susan Allport’s brilliant book “Queen Of Fats” that it has one of the highest omega 3 to omega 6 ratios at around 1:3 (only flaxseed and linseed oils are better). Given that we all tend to eat too much omega 6 I wondered how this jigsaw fits together. Is it only heated canola? or canola that it extracted under high pressure that is the problem? Any wisdom greatfully received. Best wishes
Read this: https://superhumancoach.com/negative-effects-of-c…
Omega fats in oils are unhealthy because they can’t stay fresh. Once pressed, they start oxidizing and become unhealthy. Eating the foods that contain the fats does work, because the oils are protected within, provided the food is fresh.
Thanks for the article. I’m a little confused regarding the fermented foods though. In block #1 of 10 foods that break your brain, you say to avoid fermented foods because they contain high histamine levels, but in dietary strategy #3, you say to consume traditional fermented foods which include several of the foods you say to avoid earlier on. What is your recommendation? Thanks!
Your best stratagy is a “Strategene” analysis by Dr. Ben Lynch to assess histamine sensitivity.. <a href="http:// <a href="http:// .https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/”” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/"” target=”_blank”>.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/” target=”_blank”> <a href="http:// <a href="http://.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/“” target=”_blank”>.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/“ target=”_blank”> <a href="http://.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/” target=”_blank”>.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/self-quantification-podcasts/how-to-use-strategene-for-genetic-analysis/
Very interesting, thanks!
Biohacks, little known on the West:
1. For detoxification of your shelf, you can put a small plate with sodium bicarbonate in it. For detoxification of your room, you can put a big plate with sodium bicarbonate in it.
2. Negative ions during your sleep you can get by placing a plate with salt near your pillow (you can put your bottles of essential oils nearby also).
3. For hardening/hormesis and moisturizing of air, you can spatter water (maybe with vinegar) in your room.
4. For stimulating feet (and not only feet) you can lay/stomp on Lyapko or Kuznetsov Massage Big Mat – Full Body acupuncture.
Awesome summary of food strategies! So to avoid problem #8 – Lipopolysaccharides, obviously avoid the listed items like cheesecake. But how does one get things like tubers/sweet potatoes consumed around all these healthy fats? Wouldn’t they have the same problem as any high carb item with fats even though they are ‘healthy’?
Yes, this even means that if one of your favorite meals (like mine) is, for example, a nice, fatty cut of ribeye steak with sweet potato fries, you’d want to go easy on the fries, especially if cognitive performance is your primary objective.
You can always make your own cheesecake and add Stevia or Agave honey nectar or localized farm honey from your local grocer or farmer’s market that is naturally and certified organic or organic unrefined turbanado sugar, mixed organic or non GMO chicken egg yolks with, organic cream cheese two blocks of it for a big cake, and organic whipping cream. Blend sugar, egg yolks, and cream cheese together. For the pan add non-glutton organic cracker crums with organic butter to line the pan. Chill. No baking done or needed. Add a organic cherry on top or several for decoration and added extra Vitamin C or with organic Strawberries or Pine Berries.
Add half a cup or quarter cup of the sugar of your choice.
Oh I forgot to mention: chill for two days to set up solid and smooth. If you want or you’re allergic to strawberries or simply don’t like them, substitute them for blueberry sauce with garnished blueberries. Take the organic maple syrup, organic juices Acai, Blueberry, and Bilberry heat them up or serve cold for that special syrup around your cheesecake or serve without. Your choice. Enjoy!