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Passport To Health: Norway

Upper part of a carved wooden figurehead from a Viking ship against a blue background Oslo, NorwPassport To Health is one of my favorite topics…it allows me to talk about two things I love: health and travel. As I’ve said before, we North Americans may be many things, but one thing we’re not? Svelte. Fact is, we can learn a lot from other countries. (And shamelessly steal their health secrets.) Today, let’s look at Norway. 

Norway is the home of the Vikings. Hearty, hale stock to be sure. But the Norwegians retain their reputation as a healthy population in modern times, too. They are much less obese than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease.  

So what are the Norwegian health secrets that we should all steal? The first one is eating fish.

The Norwegians eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines—even for breakfast! The eat trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. And that’s why this is a health secret.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. It’s considered an essential fatty acid because our bodies don’t manufacture it. And research is piling up on the health benefits of omega-3. Most of the studies surround the heart-health benefits. It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol profile, reduce heart disease risk, reduce stroke. And other, non-heart disease benefits too, like reduced risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, improving rheumatoid arthritis, reducing ADHD, decrease chronic inflammation, help reduce anxiety and stress.

The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week, and I think that’s a great, manageable goal for most of us.

norway

So here’s the other health secret of the Norwegians that we can learn from: their approach to work-life balance. This, of course, is true for other Scandinavian countries, too–it’s not completely unique to Norway. Scandinavians have much more paid vacation time than we do, longer maternity leaves, and generally speaking, while work has its place, it doesn’t take over from the rest of life. Work-life balance is a fiercely guarded issue. From all reports, everyone in Norway clocks off at 5 o’clock. Offices are ghost-towns after that, because that’s when people go home and spend time with their families, preparing meals…and basically, not working.

As for vacation time, the legal minimum paid vacation time in Canada is 10 days. This adds up to 2 weeks, if you’re working full time. In Norway, like most of the Scandinavian countries, the minimum vacation allotment is 25 days. That clocks in at 5 weeks! Statutory holidays are on top of that.

This is all state-supported, and so it’s difficult to fully replicate, here, in our own lives–unless you happen to have some personal pull with the government–but the principle is something we can practice. If you tend toward the workaholic end of the spectrum, if your work-life balance could use a little more, well, balance…why not take a page from the Norwegian book? Make it a priority to take your vacation allowance (unbelievably, every year tons of Canadian vacation time remains unused), spend quality time with your families, and enjoy hobbies and personal pursuits.

Ha det bra!

If you liked this, here are some of my other Passport To Health posts:

9 Natural Ways to Treat Headaches

I get a lot of headaches. Everyone manifests their stress in different ways (crappy sleep, for example, or an irritable gut…) but I carry mine squarely in my neck and shoulder muscles. Which, consequently, translates to frequent tension headaches.

I’ve also had the distinct displeasure, in recent years, of experiencing migraines. Now that’s some nasty pain. I have newfound sympathy for my sister, who has suffered migraines her entire life. During the first migraine I ever had, the pain was so bad I wanted to cut off my own head to make it stop. And that actually seemed like a rational thought at the time. Those of you who have ever had a migraine know exactly what I’m talking about, I’m sure.

At any rate, yes, there are meds for headaches. But is that the only way to go? Nope.

Here are some non-medication/natural ways to treat (and prevent) headaches:

1.Water. Insufficient fluid intake is a very common cause for headaches. How much to drink? Read this. 

2.Massages. Regular massage therapy helps with muscle tension, with stress…and so much more (here’s what I’m talking about).

3.A Headache Diary. To keep track of everything you eat, for potential food triggers. A detailed journal is the only way to sort out your own individual factors, but classic triggers include: red wine, chocolate, and cheese (I know, I know. All the good stuff, right?)

4.Caffeine. This can be both a plus and a minus. Caffeine does, indeed, treat headaches (it’s an ingredient in many headache pain relievers, like Excedrin), but caffeine withdrawal will also give you a headache. My advice: keep your intake moderate, and try not to vary the amount of coffee you drink, day to day.

5.Meditation. An excellent stress reliever, meditation has also been shown to reduce pain. (More about meditation, here.)

6.Sleep. Sleep deprivation is another classic, but under-recognized cause for headaches. Make sure you’re getting the amount your system needs (typically, for most adults, 7-8 hours). Trouble sleeping? Read this.

7.Magnesium. A few small studies have shown that frequent headache sufferers are more likely to be magnesium deficient, and that magnesium can help treat that pain. I’ve written about magnesium before, primarily as it relates to sleep and stress, but it’s worth considering for headaches.   

8.Stress Management. Speaking of stress, this is a biggie when it comes to headache factors. From an anecdotal point of view, I’d say it’s the biggest cause. But, though it might be easy to identify, it’s not so easy to deal with. Many people struggle with how to cope with stress. Start here.

9.Omega-3. This makes intuitive sense to me, as omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory, and now some early studies are showing benefit for headache sufferers. But, even if the evidence doesn’t pan out in terms of therapeutic benefit for headaches, there are so many other reasons to increase your omega-3 intake, I think it’s a good idea anyway.

Passport to Health: Part Deux

In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.

Norway

Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.

The Netherlands

Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?

Panama

A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?  

Britain

The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.

Switzerland

And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.

Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.

When This Doctor Became A Patient

It was exactly a year ago when everything changed for me. On May 10, 2011 I logged on to check my bloodwork results. I scrolled down, and stared at the screen. And the floor dropped out from under me.

I had a positive result. Which, in the medical world, is a very big negative. I had a positive ANA. Which is a screening test for lupus.

But let’s back up a little. It all started a few weeks prior, with a little aching in my right elbow. I didn’t think much of it. Too much time on my laptop, maybe. And then, a few days later, I started to feel a little soreness in my right knee. Then my left knee.

Things were not trending in the right direction.

More joints became involved, until I could ignore it no longer. I had distinct pain, and stiffness, in both elbows and wrists, both ankles, knees, and hips. Then, a little redness about my elbows and ankles. And definite, visible swelling.

It was time to see my doctor. I booked an appointment for three days’ time. And during those three days, my symptoms became even worse. I was trying not to freak out. Trying very hard, but not particularly succeeding.

The problem, of course, with having a career in medicine is the knowledge. All the scary possibilities reared up in my imagination. Rheumatoid arthritis. MS. Lupus. Various other connective tissue disorders…

When I finally saw her, my doctor shared my concern. Which was both relieving and worrisome at the same time. I wasn’t imagining it. Also? I wasn’t imagining it.

So we did some tests. X-rays and bloodwork. The x-rays came back normal. Good. The initial bloodwork results came trickling in. Thyroid somewhat off, thyroid antibodies elevated. Low iron. Low vitamin D. It was strange to see my own bloodwork coming back abnormal, I’d always been generally healthy. But none of that stuff was alarming. None of it was stuff I couldn’t deal with.

A few days later I got the result I most definitely could not deal with.

That positive ANA.

I remember staring at the screen. My husband and my dad were making lunch and chatting in the kitchen. My dad was visiting to help us out because I was, at that point, entirely unable to do anything for myself or my children.

I started to cry. The crying got worse, and louder, as that result began to sink in. Me? Lupus? Suddenly, everything I knew about life had changed. My whole life would now be measured in two segments, before lupus, and with lupus. Nothing would ever be the same.

Again, I was simultaneously thankful for, and cursing, my knowledge base. I’d seen people with lupus, watched them deteriorate before my eyes. Lupus was a nasty disease, I knew that. It was a forever diagnosis, but unpredictably waxing and waning. It could affect every aspect of life and function. Cause end-organ damage at a whim. Force the use of potent medication that caused side effects almost as bad as the disease.

It was a terrifying moment.

But shortly after that initial terror, a few things crystallized for me. Life was going to take on a new shape. First, I was not going to do shit I did not want to do anymore. Also? I was going to do shit I did want to do.

Over the subsequent weeks, I saw two rheumatologists and an endocrinologist. There were few answers forthcoming. But one thing they hesitantly agreed on? This was not, in fact, lupus. They weren’t impressed at my antibody numbers. Said my results weren’t specific enough.

A huge relief. For the time being. Because then I entered a different world…the world in which I embraced the unknown.

I had more x-rays taken. Much more bloodwork. My doctor (bless her) called me regularly to check on me. For a while, things continued to worsen for me, physically. My joints became enormous, swollen and painful. Sleeping was very difficult. And the red welt-like lumps grew over my ankles, legs, and elbows. Erythema Nodosum, I thought, looking at the welts and nodding. I went to see my doctor. Erythema Nodosum, she said, on sight, also nodding. Not a diagnosis, per se, just a symptom that was all part of my nonspecific inflammatory flare.

I developed an annoying cough. A dry, irritating cough that seemed to correlate with worsening joint pain. I lived on anti-inflammatories. And, like the bad patient that all good doctors are, I resisted taking the prescribed prednisone. It was a line I was not ready to cross.

My mother wanted answers. “If we could just get a diagnosis, find out what it is…then we’ll know how to treat it.”

I nodded, but I knew the naiveté of this statement. Autoimmune diseases are multitude. There are endless categories and labels, and lots of ‘not otherwise specified’ tags on the ends of otherwise specified names. I knew that many people go years without a firm diagnosis. “I was misdiagnosed for a long time,” they say, clenching their teeth at the conspiracy.

But I know that “misdiagnosis” is really only a relevant term when you’re talking about stuff that’s black and white. And that medicine, the human body, is the exact opposite of black and white. Stuff evolves. Stuff changes. Stuff becomes more obvious, and then we’re in a position to pin down a diagnosis. There are no perfect tests, rarely any textbook cases. Often, the only time we know for sure what happened in someone’s body is when we cut it open at autopsy. And even then, there’s a whole lot of deductive work that goes on. This is all especially true when it comes to autoimmune disease, which shapeshifts to its heart’s desire.

So I prepared for a long period of not exactly “knowing”. But, just because I didn’t have an exact name for the maelstrom that had taken over my body, didn’t mean there was nothing I could do.

I knew that my immune system was freaking out. I knew that my body was going on inflammatory overdrive. And I knew I could do something about that.

So I started taking care of myself, I mean really taking care of myself. I knew about the physical stuff I could do. I needed to get more sleep. I needed to start eating more veggies, more fruit, more whole grains, more superfoods. I started taking vitamin D, and omega-3. And selenium. Incidentally, I suddenly understood the desperate patient’s plight oh-so-well, in a way I’d never experienced before. The urge to take supplements. The urge to do something—anything—to grasp on and hope that I’d discovered the thing that would make me better. I was grappling for the reins of control. Just as I’d seen so many patients do, sitting across from me, sitting in the cheap examination room chair while I sat in the comfy, expensive desk chair. And now I was in that cheap chair.

I couldn’t exercise. I was getting passed by the octogenarians who live in my neighborhood as we walked the snail’s race to the village. I’m not kidding. Literally, I was lapped by seniors with walkers. But I started doing yoga. I could barely do any of the poses at first, could barely move, really, but I still managed to spend a couple of minutes doing deep breathing, meditating, and very gentle stretches.

Significantly, I started exploring the less tangible aspects of health. Mostly, stress. I had been under a lot of stress. New baby, living through major house renovations, putting tons of pressure on myself to work and be a great mom and wife…plus my own writing aspirations. It was too much.

I started reading a lot about stress, which led me to reading about happiness. And that has revolutionized my life.

And then…as the weeks went by, things peaked and began, ever so gradually, to improve. About three months after things started, I was mostly back to normal. Physically, anyway. Psychologically, I would never be the same. In a good way.

I don’t know what improved things for me. Was it the omega-3? Was it the yoga? Or was it just the natural course of things; would I have gotten better on my own?

The rheumatologists, at last, agreed on a diagnosis. Most likely, I’d been battling a thing called Lofgren’s Syndrome. A rare form of a rare disease called sarcoidosis. Which is classified as an idiopathic autoimmune disorder. Idiopathic, here, meaning: no identifiable cause. Read: we have no freaking idea why it happens.

In me, maybe stress triggered it. Maybe not. You know what? It doesn’t matter. I knew I was too stressed. And whether the stress caused it, contributed to it, or was merely an innocent bystander…I knew I had to do something about it.

I wrote a bucket list. I’ve got a very specific stress management plan now. I figured out some priorities. Happiness has become a cornerstone goal for me.

One year later, is everything exactly as I want it? Nope. I’ve been symptom free since everything settled in the summer. Am I stress free? Not exactly. Am I blissfully happy? Ummm, not quite. But you know what? It’s pretty damn close. Do I have a perfect lifestyle?

Well…it’s getting there. And that’s okay, because it’s a work in progress. A healthy lifestyle isn’t something you just turn on overnight. You work at it. I’m working at it.

A big milestone for me? I started running. At first I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. My husband was nervous for me, didn’t want me to do anything that would stress my joints, for fear of things coming back. But…so far, so awesome.

And I embrace the uncertainty every day. Because although the rheumatologists believe Lofgren’s syndrome to be the most likely diagnosis, there’s still a chance it could have been—could be—something else. Something that could come back. Like lupus. See, I read their consultation letters. There was lots of room for reassessment should my symptoms recur.

To be honest, it’s hard not to freak out every time I get a little twang in a joint, now and then. But, in a way, it’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me from taking my health for granted. Those little twangs serve as momentary reminders.

Health can be snatched away, even one evening while you’re sitting there on Twitter and your elbow starts to ache a little. Taking your health for granted is a mistake we all make. But I’m working on correcting that, and enjoying my good health every day.

Just the other day I jogged swiftly past a pair of seniors ambling along with their walkers. And my heart soared. Of course, I know I’ll be just like them one day.

But not yet. Not just yet.

What to Snack On When You’re Stressed

I know–when life is throwing you curveballs, your impulse is to bee-line for the freezer (chocolate chip cookie dough Haagen-Dazs, anyone?) or the snack cupboard (hello, Sea Salt & Vinegar Kettle chips…).

But that’s not going to make anything better. Especially not your coronary arteries. Or your muffin top.

So I’ve rounded up some healthier options–and snack choices that may actually help you cope with that stress.

Try these:

Spinach salad. The magnesium in spinach can help regulate cortisol (a key stress hormone).

Walnuts. These yummy nuts have been shown to decrease blood pressure during stressful events.

Mandarin oranges. Vitamin C can decrease cortisol levels.

Gum. Okay, technically not a snack, but certainly something you can chew on–and studies have shown that chewing gum improves mental performance and decreases stress and anxiety.

Oatmeal. Complex carbs can help lower stress.

Tea, green or black. Tea, among its many health benefits, has been shown to decrease cortisol levels.

Guacamole & baked pita chips. The potassium in avocado can help lower your blood pressure, and the crunch in the pita chips will help satisfy that need for…well, something crunchy.

Salmon. Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3, and studies show that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Stress Ninja: 3 Ways to Kick Stress to the Curb

Here’s what I mean by Stress Ninja.

Chronic stress is a big deal. It can sneak up on you, and it can seriously mess with your health (mental and physical…and your appearance, too). So stress management is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. That said, a lot of people have no idea where to start. Moreover, many stress management strategies require a big time investment. But…for many of us, a significant source if stress is the fact that we’re already in a time crunch.

Can you say: Catch-22?

So, in a previous post I started to collect ways you can deal with stress that take very little time. And that’s why I call it Stress Ninja–these strategies just slip into your life, ninja-like. Also? They kick stress’s butt.

Here are three more stress ninja moves.

1.Chew gum.

There’s a growing body of research revealing the fascinating effects of chewing gum: greater alertness, improved mood, better attention, sharper memory, and…wait for it: reduced stress. All that, and no calories (assuming you go sugarfree, of course). Not bad for the humble Chiclet.

2. Smell the roses, er, lavender.

Aromatherapy, especially lavender, has been demonstrated to improve anxiety in a variety of stressful settings, like a dentist’s waiting room, and after working a night shift. Lavender aromatherapy has the potential to reduce serum cortisol—an important stress hormone. How long does it take to light an aromatherapy candle? No time at all.

3. Load up on Omega-3.

Studies are suggesting that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety. Fill your plate with fish like salmon and mackerel. Throw walnuts on, well, everything from salads to yogurt. Or take supplements. Okay, so eating fish isn’t going to make your problems go away. But if it helps you cope a little easier, feel a little better, that’s a good thing, no?

Looking for more stress management strategies? Check these articles:

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Mad About Nuts

When I was younger I used to avoid nuts because of their high fat content. You too?

Fortunately, we now know about the blissful thing called “healthy fat“. There’s no doubt, nuts do contain a lot of fat, but most of it is the monounsaturated kind (same stuff that’s in olive oil). And that sort of fat is good for your cholesterol profile, and protects against heart disease. But the good news about nuts doesn’t stop there. Nuts are also a great source of protein, and contains tons of beneficial nutrients, like magnesium, vitamin E, and flavonoids. Research has shown many health benefits to consuming nuts, like reducing your risk of developing blood clots and improving the lining of your arteries. All this definitely places nuts in the “superfood” category.

But are some nuts better than others? Here’s a field guide.

Almonds seem to get a lot of press. And for good reason. They are a rich source of vitamin E (an antioxidant), magnesium, flavonoids, and calcium.

Walnuts (my current fave) are chock full of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid. And omega-3 is a very good thing. I have walnuts with greek yogurt, just about every day. Also, walnuts have almost twice the antioxidant levels of other nuts.

Peanuts (which, technically, aren’t nuts but legumes…if you’re into that sort of Cliff Calvin/Cheers type trivia…) are a rich source of folic acid, which is super-important for pregnant (or trying!) women for preventing birth defects. Peanuts also contain resveratrol–yes, that’s the selfsame antioxidant found in red grapes and red wine.

Cashews have got lots of oleic acid (monounsaturated fat), calcium, and copper which is beneficial for red blood cell formation.

Pistachios are high in phytosterols and heart-lovin’ monounsaturated fats. Pistachios are also a great source of potassium, vitamin B6, and calcium.

Chestnuts are one of the lower-calorie, lower-fat nuts. They’re also rich in potassium, folate, and vitamin C (the only nuts with C). Roasted chestnuts are one of my favorite winter treats, and in Italy they soak chestnuts in wine before roasting. Yes please.

Bottom line: because each type of nut carries its own nutrient cocktail, and no shortage of health benefits, I think that leaves us free to choose the ones we like best. After all, this is food, people, and it’s about taste! Also, I’m a believer in variety.

Mixed nuts, then?

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What is CRP?

Is CRP a test you should be getting done? Chances are, you’ve never even heard of it. (If you have: bonus points to you!) CRP stands for C-Reactive Protein, and it’s a marker for inflammation. But we also use it as a screening test for heart disease risk. 

At this point you might be asking: what does inflammation have to do with heart disease, exactly?

A lot, as we’re starting to learn.

How inflammation contributes to heart disease

Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases. When inflammation gets into otherwise healthy tissues it can inflict long-term damage, and it poses a particular problem for the heart. Inflammation triggers a series of processes and chemical reactions that encourages plaque buildup in the arteries–narrowing those vessels and making blood clots more likely. This is the root of coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association says that people with high CRP are twice as likely to have cardiac arrest than people with low CRP. Which makes it a very important risk factor. But, CRP is a relatively new test, and not exactly standard practice–yet.

The kicker is that CRP is a non-specific marker of inflammation, meaning, it doesn’t tell us where the inflammation is within your body. So this is not a diagnostic test. Not like a pregnancy test, where you get a yes or a no. It gives us an idea about the degree of inflammation you’ve got going on.

Should You Get Your CRP Tested?

Is this test for everyone? No. If you already have known cardiac disease, or have other major risk factors anyway, the result of a CRP test is probably not going to significantly change your treatment. You should already be working on your modifiable risk factors (like quitting smoking and eating healthfully). A CRP test doesn’t replace other ways of monitoring heart disease risk, like checking blood pressure and cholesterol. But if you have intermediate risk, it could be a very useful screening test. Essentially, it comes down to individual factors, and a conversation with your family physician.

How to Lower Your CRP

If you get the test, and have an elevated CRP, what should you do to lower it?

  • Start by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. The Mediterranean diet is my favorite variation.
  • Take Omega-3 supplements. Many studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids, including a reduction in CRP.
  • Take Vitamin C. A study at UC Berkeley found that patients with elevated CRP who supplemented with 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily lowered their CRP by an average of 25%. 
  • Include more fiber in your diet. A 2006 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people with a fiber-rich diet were less likely (by 63%) to have an elevated CRP than people with poor fiber intake.
  • My personal fave: eat a little dark chocolate. A 2008 study in Italy showed an association between moderate dark chocolate intake and significantly lower levels of CRP.

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Smart Cookie: 8 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

A new study found that celery (specifically, luteolin, a compound found within celery) had brain-boosting power in older mice. Yes, celery.

So this got me thinking: are there other things you can do to upgrade your smarty-pants quotient?

You betcha.

Omega-3 fatty acids are well-known to boost brain function. This, in addition to all the other health benefits of omega-3, of course. Smarten up with fish like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, and flaxseed.

Caffeine. I know what you’re thinking–coffee only gives a temporary jolt to those neurons, right? Wrong. Studies have linked coffee with a decreased rate of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other forms of dementia.

Meditation. Making a regular practice of meditation has been shown to improve memory and cognitive sharpness.

Breakfast. Research backs up what your mama always told you. Eating that oh-so-crucial morning meal has been shown to improve short-term memory and attention. Students with a good breakfast under their belt tend to perform significantly better than those who skipped their Wheaties.

Nuts and Seeds. Vitamin E is a superb antioxidant, and antioxidants are associated with less “now where did I put my keys?” as you age. Nuts and seeds happen to have lots of vitamin E.

Chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate. This yummy treat also has powerful antioxidant properties (plus a little caffeine–see above). Keep your daily intake limited to an ounce, however, or say hello to a nice new muffin top.

Blueberries. Animal research has demonstrated the benefits of blueberries: they appear to protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Plus, aging rats on a blueberry-rich diet showed significant improvement in learning capacity and motor skills.

Sleep. A multitude of studies show the link between lack of sleep and mental dullness: poor memory, crummy concentration, slow reaction time, inefficient learning….and on, and on. So hit the sack. Your brain (and body) will thank you.

Sorting Out Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

Used to be, all fats were considered bad. We gobbled down low-fat versions of everything, assuming this was the path to true health. This was not a good time in dietary history, as far as I’m concerned. Three words:

Low. Fat. Cheese.

Ugh.

Thankfully, we now know that dietary fat is not nutritionally black and white. (Just like we know that not all carbs are the devil). Truth is, fat tastes good. The trick is to choose healthy fats, and shun the unhealthy ones.

Good fats are healthy because they reduce our LDL (“bad” cholesterol), increase our HDL (“good” cholesterol) and reduce our risk of heart disease. Healthy fats come in two varieties: polyunsaturated (especially omega-3) and monounsaturated fats. Sources of these fats are:

  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • canola oil
  • avocados
  • cold water fish (like tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • flaxseed

You want to include more of these in your diet. At the same time, you need to nix the bad stuff. Namely, saturated fat, and especially trans fatty acids. Why? They’re inflammatory. They’re artery-clogging. They give you a muffin-top.

Bad fats? Here’s your list to avoid:

  • hydrogenated oils (margarine, shortening)
  • baked goods made with hydrogenated oils (eg. cookies, crackers)
  • deep-fried food
  • movie popcorn (I have to admit, this one makes me cry)
  • chicken wings
  • french fries
  • full-fat dairy products
  • potato chips

 You get the idea, yes?

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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Disclaimer

The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. It is not a substitute for seeking medical advice or counseling. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should seek medical attention before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program described on this website.