Carbohydrate and Our Brains
In our office we receive many questions regarding “Counting our Macros”, how many carbohydrates we should have in a day, is a ketogenic diet the right diet for weight loss, or what about that Atkins diet. Well, we now have a new book out there called Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist, that is recommending a low carbohydrate diet for everyone to prevent “toxic brain”, aka neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, and others. So, does this mean all of us should be focusing on a very low carbohydrate diet (<60 grams/d) to prevent these conditions? Well, people are all individualized and a one size fits all plan is not the best option! There is some truth here, very low carb (VLC) and ketogenic diets can be effective therapeutic tools for treating many neurological disorders like epilepsy and studies have shown some promise with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s but there has not been any research yet showing that a VLC diet will help prevent these conditions! You will find no argument here the idea that refined and processed carbs like flour and sugar contribute to modern disease, there’s no evidence to suggest that unrefined, whole-food carbohydrates do. In fact, there are three compelling reasons why this is not the case.
Here is a great link discussing this new book and three compelling reasons why this is not the case.
When talking about food most people immediately think calories. How many calories are in this? Is that too many calories? Can I afford to eat that many calories? Calories are even listed at the top of a nutrition label. While our society has decided that calories should hold a high honor when discussing nutrition they are not the end all be all. In fact, the types of nutrients we are consuming are more important than the calories.
So that must mean macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat? Not exactly, while these are important and we want to be well rounded when it comes to macronutrients, we often forget about micronutrients. While they are small and we need less of them in our diet, they are a mighty part of nutrition. When talking about micronutrients we are referring to vitamins and minerals such as: Vit A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, sodium and zinc.
A few functions: Vitamin A helps with our vision and building healthy skin. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and iodine is needed for normal thyroid function. This does not cover all of the functions of all micronutrients, but it gives you an idea of how important they are in our diet.
There is no need to memorize the function of every vitamin and mineral, but be aware of some simple ways to incorporate them into your diet. One tip is to choose foods over supplements. Adding variety to your diet will decrease the need for supplements. Start by eating a wide variety of food groups and incorporate varying colors. There is not one food out there that can provide all of the micronutrients we need and adding variety to our diet will help incorporate different micronutrients.
In addition to choosing foods over supplements try adding items that are either fresh or frozen since air, light and processing can decrease the vitamin availability. When cooking, boiling is the worst option as this process will breakdown the vitamins and minerals more than steaming, sautéing or roasting. Know how nutrients interact so that you can optimize your absorption. Vitamin C increases iron absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are best absorbed with a healthy fat. Meat sources of iron are better absorbed than plant sources.
The take away: Eating a wide variety of foods and incorporating many different colors will provide a wider range of micro and macronutrients. Do not focus on individual components, but instead think about eating a healthy diet that is full of variety.
Risk Factors: high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol
How to Protect: Exercise and Diet
- Include low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, legumes, and nuts
- Limit refined carbohydrates and red meat
- Limit sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams per day
- Limit added sugar to no more than 25g per day
- Include a fruit and vegetable with every meal and snack
- Eat two servings of fish per week
Risk Factors: diet high in refined grains and saturated fat
How to Protect: follow the Mediterranean diet – study showed moderately diligent followers reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s by nearly half
- Consume 2 vegetarian meals per week
- Incorporate 1 serving of nuts per day
- Replace butter and fats with olive oil
- Consume fish a few times per week
Risk Factors: consuming red, processed, grilled and barbecued meats and deep fried foods
How to Protect: consuming antioxidants in green tea and lycopene in tomato products
- Consuming one food daily high in lycopene such as tomatoes or watermelon
- Incorporate 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day and whole grains instead of refined grains
- Limit grilled meat to 4 oz/serving
- Incorporate lean cuts of meat that end in “loin“
- Limit fried foods to no more than twice a week
Risk Factors: lack of strength training and adequate nutrition can result in men losing half their muscle mass by 70 years old
How to Protect: resistance training, cardiovascular exercise and consuming enough calories and protein to adequately supply muscles with needed nutrients
- Eat 20-30 grams of protein per meal and incorporate protein-rich snacks
- Choose lean meat such as chicken breasts, fish and 96% lean turkey and beef
- Other sources of protein include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, whole eggs, nuts and tofu
- Do not go >1 hour when hungry before eating
- Eat breakfast and do not go to bed hungry
- Unprocessed carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice and sweet potatoes will provide lasting energy
If you just don’t have time to put these tips into practice, let us help!
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What are some strategies to get your kid to eat healthy? Make food fun, etc.? Whether giving them a hands-on experience or allowing them to make choices, involving children in the preparation and cooking process is important. Food can be inherently exciting for children because it involves the sensory experiences of touching, smelling, seeing and tasting. Instead of teaching a healthy versus unhealthy approach to food, I recommend emphasizing the importance of moderation, balance and variety. Teaching children that it is OK to enjoy all types of foods in moderation is a more meaningful lesson than pitching “good” against “bad” foods.
Another strategy is to exemplify this food philosophy at home by modeling the way you eat in front of your children. If your child sees you enjoying a balanced meal with all types of foods in moderation, this message can go a long way for picky or resistant eaters. While parents are not the sole cause in the development of eating disorders, many girls and women connect the restrictive, diet-centered environments they grew up in with the development of their eating disorders.
What do you do if you pack your kids healthy lunches and they don’t eat them? If the lunches you pack for your children resemble what they are eating at home, you might not hit as much resistance when it comes to them eating that lunch at school. If there are other issues with lunch at school, I encourage parents to talk to the school and share your concerns. Lunches have gotten earlier and shorter in many schools, so there may be other factors influencing your child’s choices, such as not having enough time to eat the lunch you pack. If you have concerns, share them; perhaps other children may benefit from changes being made.
How often is it good for kids to get treats like cookies, fruit snacks etc.? It’s really going to look different for each child. There is a lot of scientific research about parents who restrict or promote a diet-centered food philosophy in the home, and this has been associated with children having lower self-esteem and who are also more likely to eat in the absence of hunger. Instead of telling your child that they eat too many cookies or fruit snacks, which can feel shaming and embarrassing for a child, point out that trying a new food may be exciting and suggest foods that you want to promote. If you place value on a diet rich in variety and moderation and model this at home, don’t worry about giving your child treats and allowing them to enjoy these foods as they would others.
What do you do when you are teaching your kids to eat healthy at home, but they get unhealthy foods at other people’s houses? Consider these instances as a time to demonstrate moderation. Even if your child is eating something at a another person’s house that you might not serve at home, if the child is not allergic or intolerant of the food, it is not going to have any lasting, negative, or harmful effect on the child.
What are some things you should not say to kids when trying to get them to eat healthy? Focusing on healthy versus unhealthy is a dead end because we eat food in combination rather than in isolation. Someone’s health does not come down to whether they had a dessert that day; but if they have had 10 desserts, that is obviously not moderation. Instead of emphasizing healthy or unhealthy, focus on the importance of variety. If a child is asking for the same food over and over and the parent wants to limit the child’s intake of that food, the concern really is rooted in that food not being eaten in moderation and encouraging more variety in the child’s choices. That being said, using statements like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been choosing a lot of food A, so today why don’t you choose between food B or C?” This can be a great statement for parents to encourage a child to make different food choices or try something that promotes variety.
What if a kid just won’t eat vegetables? In these situations, take the emphasis off vegetables altogether and focus on empowering the child. One way to do this is to offer the child a choice of vegetables to try that week. Parents can take the child to the grocery store or show him or her pictures so that the choice feels exciting and hopefully elicits some curiosity. Another strategy that works is using pre-existing activities that the child already enjoys and linking these with vegetable choices. For example, if a child likes arts and crafts, creating a color wheel and having him or her group vegetables of like colors together can be exciting and take the focus off the vegetables themselves. Having the child choose a different color every week and identifying a couple of vegetables in that color category can be new and exciting for the child. If the child is reward-driven, giving them stickers or points for each new vegetable tried and providing an appropriate, nonfood reward at the end of a month or season can be effective. As parents, you know your child best, so find ways that engage or excite your child.
Nutrition Consultants of Tulsa, LLC
2021 South Lewis Ste 325 Tulsa, Okla 74104 918.749.9077 www.nutritiontulsa.com