When we think of healthy habits, we think about exercising, eating healthy, working smarter, and spending more time doing what we love with who we love. For some reason, we rarely think about the neck up: The health of our brain, and the critical role it plays in our quality of life.
Okay, so occasional fogginess happens to the best of us – we joke about “senior moments” when we can’t find our keys or open the fridge when we really meant to open the microwave – but it could also be your brain begging you for healthy habits it can jive with.
“Leading science now squarely points a finger at the desperately important role of nutrition in both enhancing brain function as well as making the brain more resistant to disease,” says Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, bestselling author of "Grain Brain, The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar, Your Brain’s Silent Killers."
Let's start with our diet: "The brain damaging effects of a high carb diet no doubt relate to how carbs raise blood sugar," says Perlmutter. "Even mild elevations of blood sugar are devastating to the brain."
Blood sugar elevation damages the brain by increasing inflammation, which is connected to all brain degenerative diseases including Parkinson's, MS, and Alzheimer's. "The bottom line is that inflammation must be avoided at all costs to provide a healthy environment for your brain to thrive and function optimally today, as well as in the years to come," says Perlmutter.
Here are five healthy habits, courtesy of Perlmutter, that will help keep your brain healthy and resistant to disease:
1. Cut the carbs
"Try to limit your daily total carb consumption to no more than 80 grams," suggests Perlmutter. Scour your diet for hidden carbs and sugar. For example, ditch your morning glass of orange juice, which hands you nine teaspoons of sugar before you've even had breakfast! Also, focus on lower carb vegetables: "An easy way to screen vegetables in terms of their carb content is to reduce your consumption of vegetables that grow below the ground."
2. Know the glycemic index
Another healthy habit that's often overlooked is basing the foods you eat on the glycemic index, which tells you which foods spike your blood sugar the fastest. Perlmutter suggests focusing on foods with a lower glycemic index to keep your blood sugar balanced.
3. Eat more fat
That is, healthy fat that's unprocessed and unmodified: Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, grass-fed beef and wild fish are fats that can be safely added to your diet. "Dietary fat is nature's perfect food for the brain," says Perlmutter. "Increasing your consumption of fat while reducing carbs and sugar provides a healing environment for your brain, reducing the damaging effects of inflammation while powering your brain cells with a far more efficient source of energy." Cha-ching!
4. Nix gluten
This protein, found in foods made from wheat, rye and barley, may increase inflammation in as many as 40 percent of humans, and researchers now believe that we all have some degree of inflammation from gluten consumption.
5. Get fit
When it comes to healthy habits, we already know exercise is important, but research now proves as little as 20 minutes of exercise is associated with the growth of new brain cells in the brain's memory center and improvement in memory. (Now, where'd I put my yoga tights?)
How many of these healthy habits do you need to work on?
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