Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, is a neurologist and co-director of the Alzheimer’s prevention program at Loma Linda University
Our brain is the most active organ in our body and uses 25 percent of our energy and sometimes up to 50 percent of our oxygen even when we sleep. Eating a balanced diet is critical to maximizing your performance, but all too often, brain health is overlooked.
With the help of my wife Ayesha, who studied preventive medicine and neurology, I created a diet plan to improve our brain health: The 30 Day Alzheimer’s Solution: The Definitive Guide to Food and Lifestyle to Prevent Cognitive Decline.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are usually problems that are addressed later in life. However, the plan is aimed at people of all ages as it is never too early to start feeding your brain: even our children, ages 14 and 16, follow this diet. We advocate a clean, plant-based approach that focuses on the nine NEURO points: diet, exercise, relaxation, recovery, and optimization. The plan also aims to encourage positive habits, such as: B. a good night’s sleep and eating without a phone. An example of this would be:
nutrition: I’ll be eating three servings of kale a week.
exercise: I will walk briskly for 15 minutes a day five days a week.
Relax: I will meditate for 10 minutes every day.
Restore: I turn off all device screens an hour before bed each night for a good night’s sleep.
Optimize: I will practice piano three times a week.
We decided to limit the plan to 30 days as based on our experience this is long enough to create a number of habits that will last.
My wife and I have dedicated our careers to research into the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. What we discovered is that food is inextricably linked to brain health. Thousands of years ago, the goal was to only live long enough to find a partner, which led us to look for sugars and high-energy foods. To put it simply, life was about survival, not about thriving. But now the goal is to cheat this system and live a long and healthy life. If we continue to eat too much sugar and processed carbohydrates, as is common in Western diets, it can damage your brain.
This is partly due to the role of insulin: when you eat too much sugar, it overworks the cells, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. Diets high in saturated fat cause long-term damage to our cells, including oxidation, while too much salt can affect blood pressure and damage the blood vessels leading to the brain. We chose to avoid fish for environmental reasons and because of concerns about mercury and lead. Instead, our plan includes omega-3s in people’s diets through walnuts and supplements.
The beauty of the brain is that it can thrive when fed the right foods. These are the “Neuro Nine” that should be eaten every day.
1. Green leafy vegetables
These include dark green leafy vegetables like kale, watercress, Swiss chard, cabbage vegetables, arugula, and spinach. These do not contain saturated fats and will help make you feel full. As a result, you are less likely to reach for unhealthy foods. They don’t release excess sugar or glucose, so they’re best for diabetes, pre-diabetes, and glucose metabolism.
The goal is: three cups raw or 1.5 cups cooked.
2. Whole grains
Like oats, quinoa, brown rice, farro, and buckwheat. The fiber component is critical as it is broken down into these short fatty acids that affect the blood-brain barrier.
Goal: three servings (½ cup of cooked oatmeal flour, quinoa, brown rice, or 100% whole wheat pasta is 1 serving).
Especially ground flax seeds and chia seeds. They have an omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio of 3-4 to 1, making them a powerful food for brain health. DHA is the omega-3 that is good for the brain; usually it comes from the algae that fish eat. Flax seeds also contain lignans, which have antioxidant properties and fight degenerative changes in the body and brain.
Goal: two tablespoons (two servings)
4. Beans and legumes
You should aim for a diet high in chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, edamame, giant beans, tempeh, and tofu. Beans contain resistant starches, fiber, vegetable proteins, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and iron. They lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar and have been shown to lower the risk of stroke.
The goal is: three servings of 1⁄2 cup cooked beans or tofu / tempeh, 1⁄4 cup hummus or 1⁄2 cup peas
Like blueberries, blackberries, strawberries. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins have also been linked to increased neuronal signaling in areas of the brain responsible for memory function, and they improve the delivery of glucose to the brain.
Goal: 1⁄2 cup (one serving)
Including walnuts, almonds and cashews. In addition to seeds, these are a source of healthy fat. Walnuts are an excellent choice when it comes to brain health: They are relatively high in omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA, as well as fibers and minerals. Walnuts also have the highest antioxidants of all nuts; However, nuts are high in calories, so it is important to consume them in moderation.
Goal: 1⁄4 cup (one serving)
Like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. These also have important anti-inflammatory drugs called sulforaphane, which can access the blood-brain barrier and reverse free radical damage and even normal aging.
Goal: one cup (two servings)
Green, white, black or oolong tea. Green tea contains catechin, a polyphenol that activates toxin-clearing enzymes. This makes it a great anti-inflammatory. Recent research shows that consuming 1 to 2 cups of green tea per day lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and stroke due to the compound EGCC.
Goal: At least one cup a day
9. Herbs and Spices
Especially turmeric, but also sumac, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, cloves, Indian gooseberries and saffron. We mainly use these in the plan as a substitute for salt because of the flavor they bring. However, they are also an easy way to add more anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds to your diet.
Goal: At least 1⁄4 teaspoon daily
The 30 Day Alzheimer’s Solution: Definitive Food and Lifestyle Guide to Preventing Cognitive Decline by Dean Sherzai and Ayesha Sherzai is now available (HarperOne)
As Alice Hall tells