Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brain-Healthy Nutrition (Part Two)

In my last post I introduced five components of brain-healthy nutrition. I explained the first four. Now, here's the fifth component: heart health.

How is heart health related to brain health?

Numerous studies have shown a direct relationship between coronary heart disease, high cholesterol and cognitive decline. One landmark study in California by Dr. Rachel Whitmer evaluated nearly 9,000 people (age 40-44), examining total cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and hypertension. The study revealed that having one of these cardiovascular risk factors at midlife bumped up the chance of getting Alzheimer's between 20 and 40 percent. People with all four (high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and hypertension) were more than twice as likely to get Alzheimer's as those who had none of the risk factors.

Mainstream Americans associate a high intake of fiber with heart health. But from what foods are they getting their fiber? Mostly from cereals, breads and whole grains. The food marketers of these products do an excellent job of promoting them as "heart-healthy." Unfortunately, we don't see the blueberry growers touting their product as heart healthy. Think about this: a cup of blueberries (or blackberries and raspberries) contains 5g of fiber, 80 calories, along with powerful antioxidants. Compare that to the breakfast cereal you are eating to increase your fiber intake. One serving (3/4 cup) of Honey-Nut Cheerios, which they claim helps lower cholesterol, contains 2g of fiber and 110 calories. And seriously, do most people measure out 3/4 cup? Raisin Bran Extra (one cup) contains 7g fiber... but packs 190 calories and 44 grams of carbohydrates! Couple that with 1/2 cup milk and you'll be getting 56g carbohydrates, 240 calories and about 10g protein.

Try these tasty, nutritious alternatives for a heart-healthy, brain-healthy breakfast:

Two-Egg Omelet - 2 eggs with 1 oz meat (bacon, turkey, ham), and spinach. On the side, serve with 1 cup fresh berries, 1 oz avocado

Brain Shake - in blender combine 1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder, 1 cup berries, 1 Tablespoon almond butter (just like peanut butter but extra-delicious!), 1 T cocoa powder, 8 oz water and 6 ice cubes. Blend for approx. 1 minute, or until creamy smooth.

Either of the breakfast options above contains all the components of brain-healthy nutrition: constant protein to carbohydrate balance, good fats, antioxidants and fiber.

The nutritional components of brain health all contribute to a healthy heart. So take heart in the fact that as you are keeping your blood sugar regulated and consuming antioxidants and healthy fats, you are also protecting your heart.

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