Tuesday, October 25, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: Anxiety and PTSD

Anxiety and PTSD: Based on the book "This is Your Brain on Food"


The Western diet actually refers to the standard American diet. Though plenty of Americans are as health conscious as anyone else in the world, the Western diet is what you’d typically find in a fast-food meal—the major components are bad fats (saturated fats, trans fats, and unhealthy PUFAs like the vegetable oil commonly used for deep-frying) and high-GI carbs, which means lots of fried food, sweetened drinks (especially those sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup), and lots of red meat. While there’s no question that this diet is bad for your physical health, we’ll see its negative influence on mental health throughout this blog. Anxiety is no exception. It’s important to realize that excess caffeine in your diet can precipitate or worsen anxiety. Caffeine overstimulates regions of the brain that process threat. When you use artificial sweeteners that have no nutritional value, they can increase “bad” gut bacteria and therefore negatively affect mood and anxiety. Sweeteners like aspartame have been more directly linked with anxiety in research studies and should be avoided, or at the very least used in moderation. Diets rich in dietary fiber may reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress. You’ll find rich dietary fiber in the “five Bs”: beans, brown rice, berries, bran, and baked potato with the skin on. Other high-fiber foods include pears, apples, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, artichokes, almonds, walnuts, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and pearl barley. Fermented foods, like plain yogurt with active cultures and kimchi, are a great source of live bacteria that can enhance healthy gut function and decrease anxiety. In the brain, fermented foods may confer several advantages. Fermented foods have improved human cognitive function in several studies. Other sources of fermented foods include kombucha, miso, tempeh, and apple-cider vinegar. You can also ferment vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, green beans, radishes, and broccoli. Other foods and nutrients that decrease anxiety include selenium (found in Brazil nuts), potassium-rich foods (e.g., pumpkin seeds), flavonoids (e.g., dark chocolate), and theanine (e.g., green tea). Foods that contain high amounts of lysine such as lean beef and lamb, tempeh, seitan, lentils, black beans, and quinoa can also be helpful. On the other hand, avoid wheat bran since it contains phytic acid, which blocks zinc absorption and causes anxiety. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, decreases anxiety and changes the corresponding brain chemistry, protecting the hippocampus.

ANXIETY CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: High-fiber foods: Beans, brown rice, berries, bran, pears, apples, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, artichokes, almonds, walnuts, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and pearl barley. Aged, fermented, and cultured foods: Yogurt, kombucha, miso, tempeh, apple-cider vinegar, and pickled vegetables. Tryptophan: Turkey, other meats, and chickpeas, especially when combined with carbohydrates. Vitamins D, B1, B6, A, C, and E. Minerals: Magnesium, potassium, and selenium. Spices: Turmeric. Herbs: Lavender, passionflower, and chamomile. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-GI carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Caffeine: Keep caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day. Alcohol: For men, stay under 14 drinks per week and no more than 2 drinks in any single day; for women, stay under 7 drinks per week and no more than 1 drink in any single day. By cutting back slowly, you will help lower anxiety. Gluten: If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoid all wheat products, such as bread, pizza, pasta, and many alcoholic drinks. Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame is particularly harmful, but also saccharin. Use sucralose and stevia in moderation and with caution.


The Western diet is particularly destructive to PTSD patients, so let’s first consider the effects of the abundance of fat (as always, when I talk about high-fat diets, I mean diets high in unhealthy fats like saturated fat, trans fats, and fats used in fried food, rather than healthy fats such as omega-3s or those found in olive oil). In human studies, it is clear that PTSD affects metabolism in a way that promotes overeating and obesity. Sugar and high-GI carbs are also destructive to the traumatized brain. One study found that acute stress increased cortisol and blood glucose after a meal. This was consistent with another study that demonstrated that women with PTSD had twice the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to women without PTSD. High blood sugar affects the ability of the hippocampus to react to stress. As a result, when people are dealing with trauma, eating sugary foods may compromise the brain’s ability to deal with that stress. High-GI carbohydrates, like potatoes, white bread, and white rice, can have a similar effect. Foods with a low glycemic index (low GI) can help prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar. It’s important to know which foods increase blood glucose more than others. For example, a banana increases blood glucose more than an apple, which has the same amount of carbohydrates. And a boiled sweet potato increases blood glucose more than a boiled carrot. You can reduce the GI of foods like rice by adding foods rich in dietary fiber, or by adding vinegar or beans or dairy products. In fact, one study found that you can reduce the GI of white rice by 20–40 percent in this. As long as you make an effort to understand how it affects your body and brain, consider your individual sensitivities, and eat unhealthy foods only in moderation, finding ways to integrate your favorite foods into your diet will ultimately have a positive effect. There has been considerable controversy over the years about whether MSG is toxic or not. However, that matter is considered close to settled in modern nutrition circles: extensive scientific studies have demonstrated that MSG is safe at ordinary levels, and some studies show that it may even promote digestion and metabolism of food in the gut. However, in sensitive individuals, MSG may cause problems including brain toxicity. PTSD patients are particularly likely to be vulnerable to excess glutamates, leading to increased brain inflammation and the destruction of brain cells. Foods that contain MSG and other glutamates include fish sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, savory snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms, and spinach. Glutamic acid, a precursor of glutamate that has similar effects, is also found in seaweed, cheeses, soy sauce, fermented beans, tomatoes, and high-protein foods like meats and seafood. Blueberries have an anti-inflammatory effect. One study found that a blueberry-enriched diet increased serotonin levels in the brain and reduced free radicals and inflammation. When looking to bolster your omega-3s, general rules of thumb to remember are: Eat fish, especially farmed, fatty fish from reliable sources. If you eat beef, use grass-fed beef. If you’re vegetarian, use organic canola oil and seek out foods fortified with omega-3s. Every time you expose yourself to stress, it can damage the cells in your body the same way that powerful environmental pollutants can. Chronic PTSD means your brain is constantly stressed and therefore flooded with free radicals. Vitamin E is part of the body’s defense system against free radicals. Just 1 tablespoon of wheat germ oil a day will give you your total vitamin E requirement. Other sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, dry-roasted almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, spinach, broccoli, and raw tomatoes. 

PTSD CHEAT SHEET Foods to Embrace: Blueberries: ½–1 cup per day. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Vitamin E. Spices: Turmeric. Supplements: Ginkgo biloba. Foods to Avoid: The components of the Western diet: Foods high in bad fats (red meat, fried foods) and high-GI carbs (white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour). Sugar: Baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. MSG, other glutamates, and glutamic acid: Fish sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, miso, Parmesan cheese, savory snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms, spinach, seaweed, cheeses, soy sauce, fermented beans, tomatoes, and high-protein foods like meats and seafood. Some of these foods also have positive impacts. It is all about working out a personalized nutrition plan.

Next week we will discuss ADHD and Memory.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

This is Your Brain on Food: Depression

 Depression: From the book "This is Your Brain on Food"

The vagus nerve, also known as the “wanderer nerve,” originates in the brain stem and travels all the way to the gut, connecting the gut to the central nervous system. When it reaches the gut, it untangles itself to form little threads that wrap the entire gut in an unruly covering that looks like an intricately knitted sweater. Because the vagus nerve penetrates the gut wall, it plays an essential role in the digestion of food, but its key function is to ensure that nerve signals can travel back and forth between the gut and the brain, carrying vital information

between them. Signals between the gut and brain travel in both directions, making the brain and gut lifelong partners. That is the basis of the gut-brain romance. But what sometimes gets lost in discussions about mental health is a simple truth: the food you eat can have just as profound an effect on your brain as the drugs you take. All it takes is two hours’ worth of psychological stress to completely change the bacteria in your gut. In other words, a tense family Christmas dinner or unusually bad traffic can be enough to upset the balance of your microbiome. The theory is that the ANS and HPA-axis send signaling molecules to gut bacteria when you are stressed, changing bacterial behavior and composition. Food influences your brain directly and indirectly. When food is broken down by the microbiota into fermented and digested materials, its components directly influence neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which travel to the brain and change the way you think and feel. When food is broken down, its constituent parts can also pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream, and certain metabolites can act on the brain that way as well. Your gut bacteria may become less diverse as a result of your diet, which may cause the bad bacteria to outgrow the good bacteria, triggering a cascade of negative health effects. Food can also influence the chemical messages these bacteria send from your gut up to your brain along the vagus nerve—signals that can make you feel either depressed and drained or uplifted and energized. Prebiotics are essentially food for helpful bacteria, certain types of fiber that we cannot digest but the good bacteria in our guts can. For probiotics to be effective, it is helpful for them to have prebiotic foods available in the gut to digest. Probiotics break down prebiotics to form short-chain fatty acids that help reduce gut inflammation, block the growth of cancerous cells, and help the growth of healthy cells. Yogurt with active cultures is one of the best sources of probiotics; just avoid fruited yogurts high in added sugars. Other probiotic-rich foods include tempeh, miso, and natto (fermented soybean products); sauerkraut; kefir (soured yogurt); kimchi (Korean pickle); kombucha (a fermented tea drink); buttermilk; and select cheeses such as cheddar, mozzarella, and Gouda. Examples of prebiotic-rich foods include beans and other legumes, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and leeks. While scientific literature backs the long-held notion that feeling down in the dumps can lead you to overindulge in sugary treats, it also suggests the opposite to be true: the more sugar you eat, the more likely you are to be depressed. Why might sugar cause depression? The brain relies on glucose, a type of sugar, from the food we eat in order to survive and to function. Over a twenty-four-hour period, the brain needs only 62 grams of glucose to do its job, an incredible display of energy efficiency considering the brain has at least 100 billion cells. You can easily meet this need through healthy, whole foods. Consuming unhealthy processed foods like baked goods and soda, which are loaded with refined and added sugars, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, floods the brain with too much glucose. This “sugar flood” can lead to inflammation in the brain and may ultimately result in depression. Saccharin (Sweet’N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and stevia (Truvia) are just a few of the most popular artificial sweeteners in use by food manufacturers today. Other lesser-known compounds are erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These sugar replacements are increasingly common in foods that purport to be “healthy” by helping you cut down on calories. Several studies have demonstrated that artificial sweeteners can be toxic to the brain, altering brain concentrations of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. People who consumed more fried foods were also more likely to develop depression in their lifetime. I’m betting a few hours after the last time you indulged in a fried-food feast you felt bad—like you had too much and overdid it. While we usually think these bad feelings are simply due to the guilt of overeating, they might be feeding into more serious feelings of depression over time. Fried foods are likely such mood killers because they’re usually fried in unhealthy fats. In recent years, the conversation around fat in the diet has changed from all fats being unhealthy to a clearer distinction between “bad fats” (for instance, margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils) known to cause cardiovascular disease and other woes, and “good fats” (for instance, avocados, almonds, and olive oil) that can help prevent disease and benefit well-being. MUFAS (monounsaturated fats) should make up the majority of the fats in your diet. In addition to olive oil, MUFAs are found in nuts (almonds, walnuts) and nut butters (almond and cashew butter) as well as avocados. Nitrates may be connected with depression and are used as a preservative and to enhance color in deli slices and cured meats like bacon, salami, and sausage. One type of fat, Omega-3s, are important for normal body metabolism—they are a vital part of cell membranes and provide the starting point for making the hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. We cannot produce Omega-3s on our own, we must get our omega-3s from our diet. This is why we call them essential fats. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). All three are important to the body, performing a number of tasks, especially in cell membranes. EPA and DHA are the two omega-3s that play the most critical role in mood disorders, so it’s particularly important to ensure that you get enough of them. Omega-3s promote brain health by lowering inflammatory markers and protecting neurons from excessive inflammation. The key is to maintain a healthy balance between omega-3s and omega-6s, which are found in different foods. In a typical Western diet, omega-6s are quite common, while omega-3s are much rarer, leading to an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of somewhere around 15 to 1. The ideal ratio is more like 4 to 1.27. That means most Americans need to cut down on omega-6s while eating more omega-3s. This means that eating foods high in omega-6s like full-fat cheese, high-fat cuts of red meat, corn oil, and palm oil may increase your chances of depression. On the contrary, eating foods high in omega-3s like fatty fish, walnuts, vegetable oils, and dark, leafy vegetables may protect you against depression. Many vitamins play key roles in preventing and easing depression. The most important are folate (B9) and B12. Their functions in the body are inextricably linked: a deficiency in vitamin B12 results in a folate deficiency, which can ultimately contribute to a loss of brain cells, chiefly those located in the hippocampus. Termed “hippocampal atrophy,” this loss of brain cells is associated with depression. The hippocampus is a critical brain structure that plays an important role in learning and memory, so depressed patients may lose their ability to learn new ways to cope with their stress. Optimized to prevent or treat depression, enjoy ample amounts of legumes, citrus fruits, bananas, avocados, leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, nuts and seeds, and fish and shellfish. Vitamin A is also important in helping curb depression. The amount of vitamin A you would have to consume to suffer the ill effects of too much vitamin A are far beyond what you will eat in a healthy, varied diet, so feel free to eat vitamin A–rich foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, and blackeyed peas. Vitamin C is important for proper brain functioning, as it’s responsible for the regulation of neurotransmitter synthesis. Get your vitamin C from citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. In the brain, iron helps make up the covering that protects neurons and helps control the synthesis of chemicals and chemical pathways involved in mood. Good food sources of iron include shellfish, lean red meats and organ meats (in moderation), legumes, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, and dark chocolate (though any sweet should be eaten in moderation). Several case studies, in which patients were treated with 125–300 mg of magnesium, have demonstrated rapid recovery from major depression, often in less than a week. How can you get enough magnesium in your diet? Eat more avocados, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, and some omega-3-rich fish (such as salmon and mackerel). Most evidence strongly supports a positive association between zinc deficiency and the risk of depression, with zinc supplements reducing depressive symptoms. Zinc probably helps because it reduces brain inflammation. Zinc can be found in seafood (especially cooked oysters), lean beef, and poultry, with lower amounts found in beans, nuts, and whole grains. Saffron: While its precise mechanism of action is not known, in animals saffron increases levels of the good-mood neurotransmitters glutamate and dopamine. Turmeric: curcumin was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing depressive symptoms. How is it capable of such profound effects? Simply put, it adjusts brain chemistry and protects brain cells against toxic damage that leads to depression. Oregano is likely to help protect brain tissue. While the Mediterranean diet wasn’t formulated expressly with mental health in mind, it incorporates all the depression-busting foods just mentioned, and in healthy ratios to help you achieve the nutrient balance needed for optimal brain functioning and mood regulation. And, of course, it’s healthy for your body in many other ways. Some daily foods in the original Mediterranean diet should include: 3–9 servings of vegetables, –2 servings of fruit, 1–13 servings of cereals (bread and other grains, preferably whole grains), and up to 8 servings of olive oil per day. Now, diet is associated with restriction, while, truly, this dietary approach is all about the delicious foods you can add to your life to enhance your meals and feel better in the process. Here are the recommended servings for a Mediterranean lifestyle: Whole grains: 5–8 per day, Vegetables: 6 per day, Fruit: 3 per day, Legumes: 3–4 per week, Low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods: 2–3 per day, Raw and unsalted nuts: 1 per day, Fish: at least 2 per week, Lean red meats: 3–4 per week, Chicken: 2–3 per week, Eggs: up to 6 per week, Olive oil: 3 tablespoons per day, “Extras” foods: Wine (red preferred): up to 2 glasses per day, with meals, No more than 3 per week: sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast food, processed meats, and sugary drinks.

DEPRESSION CHEAT SHEET The Mediterranean eating pattern is a great guideline to give you a complete diet that will fight depression and keep your brain healthy. Foods to Embrace: Probiotics: Yogurt with active cultures, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, buttermilk, and certain cheeses. Prebiotics: Beans, oats, bananas, berries, garlic, onions, dandelion greens, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, and leeks. LowGI carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, steel-cut oatmeal, and chia seeds. Medium-GI foods, in moderation: Honey, orange juice, and whole-grain bread. Healthy fats: Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, nut butters, and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines. Vitamins B9, B12, B1, B6, A, and C. Minerals and micronutrients: Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and selenium. Spices: Saffron and turmeric. Herbs: Oregano, lavender, passionflower, and chamomile. Foods to Avoid: Sugar: Baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. High-GI carbs: White bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta, and anything else made from refined flour. Artificial sweeteners: Aspartame is particularly harmful, but also saccharin, sucralose, and stevia in moderation and with caution. Fried foods: French fries, fried chicken, fried seafood, or anything else deep-fried in oil. Bad fats: Trans fats such as margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated oils are to be avoided totally; omega-6 fats such as vegetable, corn, sunflower, and safflower oil should only be consumed in moderation. Nitrates: An additive used in bacon, salami, sausage, and other cured meats.

Next week we will dive into Anxiety and PTSD.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

How Not To Die Part 3

 How Not To Die: Part 3: 

We like to think of “unprocessed” as nothing bad added, nothing good taken away. It’s really the day-to-day stuff that matters most. What you eat on special occasions is insignificant compared to what you eat day in and day out. So don’t beat yourself up if you really want to put edible bacon-flavored candles on your birthday cake. Your body has a remarkable ability to recover from sporadic insults as long as you’re not habitually poking it with a fork. There’s a concept in psychology called “decision fatigue” that marketers use to exploit consumers. It appears humans have a limited capacity to make many decisions in one short stretch of time, and the quality of our decisions will deteriorate to the extent that we eventually begin making downright irrational choices. Ever wonder why supermarkets stack the junk food at the checkout counter? After wading through the forty thousand items in the average supermarket, we end up with less willpower to resist impulse purchases. Now, onto the food guidelines which may sound pretty similar to the others I have mentioned in other blog posts…are we noticing a pattern yet?

Beans, I mean legumes, which comprise all the different kinds of beans, including soybeans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils. You should try to get three servings a day. A serving of berries is a half cup of fresh or frozen, or a quarter cup of dried. For other fruits, a serving is a medium-sized fruit, a cup of cut-up fruit, or a quarter cup of dried fruit. Common cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, collards, and kale. I recommend at least one serving a day (typically a half cup) and at least two additional servings of greens a day, cruciferous or otherwise. Everyone should try to incorporate one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds into his or her daily diet, in addition to a serving of nuts or other seeds. A quarter cup of nuts is considered a serving, or two tablespoons of nut or seed butters, including peanut butter. I also recommend one-quarter teaspoon a day of the spice turmeric, along with any other (salt-free) herbs and spices you may enjoy. A serving of whole grains can be considered a half cup of hot cereal such as oatmeal, cooked grain such as rice (including the “pseudograins” amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa), cooked pasta, or corn kernels; a cup of ready-to-eat (cold) cereal; one tortilla or slice of bread; half a bagel or English muffin; or three cups of popped popcorn. Legume consumption is associated with a slimmer waist and lower blood pressure, and randomized trials have shown it can match or beat out calorie cutting for slimming tummy fat as well as improving the regulation of blood sugar, insulin levels, and cholesterol. Beans are packed with fiber, folate, and phytates, which may help reduce the risk of stroke, depression, and colon cancer. The phytoestrogens in soy in particular appear to both help prevent breast cancer and improve breast cancer survival. No wonder the cancer guidelines suggest you should try to fit beans into your meals. They can be added to nearly any meal, easily incorporated into snack times, or served as the star attraction. The possibilities are endless. There are a few popular diets out there that urge people to stop eating fruits because their natural sugars (fructose) are thought to contribute to weight gain. The truth is, only fructose from added sugars appears to be associated with declining liver function, high blood pressure, and weight gain. Studies show that if you drink a glass of water with three tablespoons of sugar (similar to what would be in a can of soda), you’ll have a big spike in your blood sugar levels within the first hour. That causes your body to release so much insulin to mop up the excess sugar that you actually overshoot and become hypoglycemic by the second hour, meaning that your blood sugar drops even lower than it would if you were fasting. Your body detects this low blood sugar, thinks you might be in some sort of famine situation, and responds by dumping fat into your bloodstream as an energy source to keep you alive. This excess fat in the blood can then go on to cause further problems. The isolation of sugar from the whole food may be the reason you’re more likely to supersize soda than sweet potatoes or why you’re unlikely to eat too much corn on the cob but can’t seem to get enough high-fructose corn syrup. Eating greens nearly every day may be one of the most powerful steps you can take to prolong your life. Of all the food groups analyzed by a team of Harvard University researchers, greens turned out to be associated with the strongest protection against major chronic diseases, including up to about a 20 percent reduction in risk for both heart attacks and strokes for every additional daily serving. In one of the few studies that looked specifically at the diversity of fruit and vegetable consumption, the variety of intake was an even better predictor of decreased inflammation in the bodies of middle-aged adults than the absolute quantity of consumption. What about organic? The fact is that being organic doesn’t mean a food is healthy. The organic food industry didn’t become so lucrative by selling carrots. For instance, you can now buy pesticide-free potato chips and organic jelly beans. There are even organic Oreo cookies. Junk food is still junk food, even if it was produced organically. The organic label cannot turn red lights green. At least half your plate should be filled with vegetables. Here’s a simple rule: Include vegetables in everything, and the more the better. Bean burritos are better than carnitas, but better still is a bean burrito with lots of veggies wrapped inside. Instead of spaghetti with marinara sauce, make it spaghetti with marinara sauce … and loads of veggies. Marinara is certainly better than Alfredo, but it’s even better still to go the extra veggie mile and heap on your favorite vegetables. Whole grains are great, but intact whole grains may be even better. The idea of preventive health is that you do something now so that nothing bad happens later. You floss your teeth not because it makes you feel better but because, by doing so, one day you won’t feel worse. You could consider the healthy habits described in this blog to be preventive—you eat a healthier diet now to avoid disease later.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

How Not To Die Part 2

 How Not To Die: Part 2:

TOP-TEN FOOD SOURCES OF NITRATES: These can go either way with your system depending on how sensitive you are but should be included if you can!

10. Beets 

9. Swiss chard 

8. Oak leaf lettuce 

7. Beet greens 

6. Basil 

5. Mesclun greens 

4. Butter leaf lettuce 

3. Cilantro 

2. Rhubarb 

1. Arugula 

Whatever you absorb through your digestive tract isn’t immediately circulated throughout your body. The blood from your intestines first goes straight to the liver, where nutrients are metabolized and toxins are neutralized. It’s no surprise, then, that what you eat can and does play a critical role in liver health and disease. This may explain why adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans has been associated with less severe fatty liver disease even though it is not typically a low-fat diet. What else can we do? A specific class of plant compounds called anthocyanins—the purple, red, and blue pigments in such plants as berries, grapes, plums, red cabbage, and red onions—have been found to prevent fat accumulation in human liver cells in in vitro studies. For instance, sulforaphane, considered one of the more active components in cruciferous vegetables, kills human leukemia cells in a petri dish while having little impact on the growth of normal cells. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, but there are many others in this family, such as collard greens, watercress, bok choy, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, arugula, radishes (including horseradish), wasabi, and all types of cabbage. Supplements contain only a select few antioxidants, whereas your body relies on hundreds of them, all working synergistically to create a network to help the body dispose of free radicals. High doses of a single antioxidant may upset this delicate balance and may actually diminish your body’s ability to fight cancer. Curcurmin is a big one! Your kidneys are tasked with the monumental responsibility of filtering your blood all day, every day. That’s a lot of work for two fist-sized organs. Kidneys are extremely resilient, but they aren’t indestructible. When they begin to fail, the body can start failing too. Toxic substances that healthy kidneys would ordinarily filter out can pass through and build up in the bloodstream. To keep your kidneys strong and your blood clean, you must carefully consider what you eat. The meat-sweet American diet can slowly damage your kidneys one meal at a time, forcing the kidneys into a state of hyperfiltration. For the purposes of this book, the author created two simple tools to help you integrate everything learned into your own daily life: 1. a Traffic Light system to quickly identify the healthiest options, and 2. a Daily Dozen checklist that will help you incorporate the foods that I consider essential to the optimal diet. The healthiest diet is one that maximizes the intake of whole plant foods and minimizes the intake of animal based foods and processed junk. Simply put, eat more green-light foods. Eat fewer yellow-light foods. And, especially, eat even fewer red-light foods. The green-light message shines brightly in pronouncements telling you to “eat more fruits and vegetables,” but the yellow and red lights can be dim and cloudy thanks to politics. In other words, the guidelines are clear when there is eat-more messaging (“Eat more fresh produce”), but eat-less messaging is obscured into biochemical components (“Eat less saturated and trans fatty acids”). National health authorities rarely just say to “eat less meat and dairy.” That’s why my green-light message will sound familiar to you (“Oh, ‘eat fruits and veggies’— I’ve heard that before”) but the yellow- and red-light messages may sound controversial (“What? Minimize meat? Really?”). That’s why, when those two directives are in sync, their eat-more language is clear: “Increase fruit intake.” “Increase vegetable intake.” But when their dual mandates are in conflict—when “improving nutrition and health” is at odds with promoting “agriculture production”—the eat-less messaging of the Dietary Guidelines gets repackaged and ends up referring to biochemical components: “Reduce intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids).” When the Guidelines tell you to eat less added sugar, calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium, and trans fat, that’s code for eat less junk food, less meat, less dairy, fewer eggs, and fewer processed foods. But they can’t actually say that. When they did in the past, all hell broke loose. In conclusion,” the researchers wrote, “nearly the entire U.S. population consumes a diet that is not on par with recommendations. These findings add another piece to the rather disturbing picture that is emerging of a nation’s diet in crisis.” SO again, what do we eat? Find out more next week!