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What You Eat For Stress Relief
Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter, and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs, and tears.
Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant. It is the same thing that makes us mad or delirious, inspires us with fear, and brings sleeplessness and aimless anxiety.
In these ways, I hold that the brain is the most powerful organ in the human body. Following the food for brain and heart health for stress management.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Place some extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a spoon, and then slowly slurp it up like you’re eating soup and being particularly rude about it. (Yes, I’m telling you to drink oil, but you’ll see why in a second.) You should in short order notice a spicy feeling in the back of your throat: that’s a
a compound called oleocanthal.
Oleocanthal is a type of phenol plant compound that powerfully stimulates our bodies’ own repair mechanisms when we consume them. Oleocanthal possesses anti-inflammatory effects so powerful that it is comparable to taking a small dose of ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, but without any of the potential side effects.
Inflammation, as you’ll learn, can strongly negate neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change throughout life) and even produce feelings of depression, as research is now beginning to show.
Extra-virgin olive oil is a staple food in the Mediterranean diet, and people who consume this kind of diet display a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
How to use:
Extra-virgin olive oil should be the main oil in your diet, to be used liberally on salads, eggs, and as a sauce. Ensure that the oil is kept in a bottle that shields it from light (dark glass or tin is fine) and stored in a cool, dry place.
Avocados are an all-in-one Genius Food the perfect food to protect and enhance your brain. To start, they have the highest total fat-protecting capacity of any fruit or vegetable.
This is good news for your brain, which is not only the fattiest organ in your body but also a magnet for oxidative stress (a major driver of aging) a consequence of the fact that 25 percent of the oxygen you breathe goes to create energy in your brain! Avocados are also rich in different types of vitamin E (a characteristic not many supplements can claim), and they are a potent repository for the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin.
Conveniently, avocados are an abundant source of healthy fats. Today there is an epidemic of vascular disease, not only in the form of heart disease but as vascular dementia, which is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. Potassium works with sodium to regulate blood pressure and is essential for vascular health, but today tend to consume insufficient amounts of potassium.
In fact, scientists believe that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed four times as much potassium as we do today, which may explain why hypertension, stroke, and vascular dementia are now so common. By providing twice the potassium content of a banana, a whole avocado is the perfect food to nurture the brain’s estimated four hundred miles of microvasculature.
Finally, who needs fiber supplements (or cheap, industrially produced morning cereals) when you can eat an avocado? One whole medium avocado contains a whopping 12 grams of fiber food for the hungry bacteria that live in your gut, which will ultimately pay their rent in the form of life- and brain-sustaining compounds that reduce inflammation, enhance insulin sensitivity, and boost growth factors in the brain.
How to use:
I try to eat half to a whole avocado every day. You can enjoy avocados simply sprinkled with a little sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil. They may also be sliced and added to salads, eggs, and smoothies.
Avocados are known for taking a long time to ripen, and only a day or two to foul. To keep extra avocados from going bad, pop them in the fridge once ripe, and take them out when ready to eat.
Of all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, blueberries are among the highest in antioxidant capacity because of their abundance of compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of polyphenol compounds that are found in many of the Genius Foods (you may remember
oleocanthal, in extra-virgin olive oil, which is a type of phenol).
The most abundant flavonoids in blueberries are anthocyanins, which have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, enhancing signaling in parts of the brain that handle memory.1 Astonishingly, these beneficial anthocyanins accumulate in the brain’s hippocampus.
Observational research is just as compelling. A six-year study of 16,010 older adults found that consumption of blueberries (and strawberries) was linked to delays in cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.3 And while a recent review found no association between general fruit intake and dementia risk in humans, berries were found to be associated: they protected the brain against cognitive loss.
All berries are likely helpful to the brain, though they vary in terms of the specific beneficial compounds found in each. When you want to mix things up, blackberries, bilberries, raspberries, and strawberries may be used in place of blueberries.
Did you know that cacao beans were honored as valid currency in the Mexico City region until as recently as 1887? This valuable fruit is as historically revered as it is healthy. It’s also among the richest natural food sources of magnesium, according to my friend Tero Isokauppila, a Finnish foraging expert, a medicinal mushroom proprietor, and one of the most knowledgeable guys on cacao I know.
Some of the most impactful benefits of eating chocolate, a naturally fermented food, come from its abundance of flavanols, a type of polyphenol. Cocoa flavanols have been shown to reverse signs of cognitive aging and improve insulin sensitivity, vascular function, blood flow to the brain, and even athletic performance.
Of nearly one thousand cognitively healthy people aged twenty-three to ninety-eight, those who ate chocolate at least once a week were found to have stronger cognitive performance on visual-spatial memory and working memory and tests of abstract reasoning.
How to use:
Consume one 85% dark chocolate bar per week. Opt for organic or fair trade certified, which is almost always ethically sourced.
Concerns about the “dangerous” cholesterol content in egg yolks have been debunked. Recent large, long-term studies have elucidated that even a high degree of egg consumption
does not increase the risk for cardiovascular disease or Alzheimer’s disease in fact, eggs actually boost cognitive function and markers for cardiovascular health.
One study, performed in men and women with metabolic syndrome, found that with a reduced-carbohydrate diet, three whole eggs per day reduced insulin resistance raised HDL, and
increased the size of LDL particles to a much greater degree than the equivalent supplementation with egg whites.
In an embryo, the nervous system (which includes the brain) is among the very first systems to develop. Therefore, egg yolk is perfectly designed by nature to contain everything needed to grow a healthy, optimally performing brain.
This helps make eggs, and especially the yolks, one of the most nutritious foods you can consume. They contain a little bit of nearly every vitamin and mineral required by the human body, including vitamin A, vitamin B 12, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and others.
They also provide an abundant source of choline, which is important for both healthy, flexible cell membranes and a learning and memory neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
How to buy:
With so many egg varieties available, it can be confusing to know which ones to buy—and it will often depend on your food budget. Here is a simple metric to help guide your choice:
Pasture-raised > Omega-3-enriched > Free-range > Conventional
The meat industry as it currently stands is cruel, unsustainable, and frankly indefensible. In the case of beef, the industry produces meat that is unhealthy, from stressed-out animals that are pumped full of antibiotics and fed a highly unnatural diet of throwaway grains and even candy.
But let’s not conflate factory-farmed beef with the beef that comes from healthy cows that have been allowed to pasture on grass (their natural diet), experiencing as their farmers like to say only one bad day.
How to cook:
While grass-fed beef has triple the vitamin E of grain-fed beef, which helps protect its polyunsaturated fats from oxidation, I recommend using as low a heat as possible. Consider cooking with garlic- and onion-based marinades to reduce the formation of neurotoxic compounds like heterocyclic amines.
Always pair with fibrous veggies such as kale, spinach, or Brussels sprouts, which help to
neutralize oxidative products in the gut, and avoid consuming starchy vegetables, grains, and other concentrated carbs.
Eat organ meats and drink bone broth! Both are full of important nutrients not contained in muscle meat, such as collagen. Collagen contains important amino acids, which too have become lost to the modern diet. One of them, glycine, has been shown to improve sleep quality and may increase brain levels of serotonin (important for healthy mood and executive function).
Dark Leafy Greens
Vegetables are your brain’s best friend. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, especially when we’re talking about the nonstarchy varieties including spinach and romaine lettuce, and the cruciferous veggies cabbage, kale, mustard greens, arugula, and bok choy. These dark leafy greens are low in sugar and packed with vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients that the brain desperately needs to function properly.
One of the nutrients that dark leafy greens are full of is the vitamin folate. In fact, the word folate comes from the Latin word for “foliage,” making it pretty easy to remember how to get more of it: eat leaves! Known mostly for its ability to prevent neural tube birth defects, folate is an essential ingredient in your body’s methylation cycle.
This cycle occurs on a constant basis throughout the body and is critical for both detoxification and getting your genes to their proper jobs.
How to use:
Eat one huge “fatty salad” daily, which is a salad filled with organic dark leafy greens like kale, arugula, romaine lettuce, or spinach, and doused with extra-virgin olive oil. Avoid nutrient-poor varieties like iceberg lettuce, which is essentially just water and fiber. There will be more
“fatty salad” options in the recipe section
Our moms were right. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (including Brussels sprouts, cabbage, radishes, arugula, bok choy, and kale) are very beneficial to our health, in part because they are dietary sources of a compound called sulforaphane.
This powerful chemical is created when two other compounds, held in separate compartments of these plant cells, unite as a result of chewing.
Sulforaphane is currently being studied for its impact on a variety of conditions, and it has already shown tremendous promise in treating or preventing cancer, autism, autoimmunity, brain inflammation, gut inflammation, and obesity.
One fascinating study showed that mice fed sulforaphane along with an obesity-promoting
the diet gained 15 percent less weight and had 20 percent less visceral fat compared to mice that weren’t fed sulforaphane with their fat-inducing diets.
Growing your own broccoli sprouts is incredibly cost-effective and easy, even for those of us without a green thumb. broccoli sprouts for my step-by-step guide on how to grow broccoli sprouts in just three days using the easiest method I’ve found. Blend them into smoothies, use them to top grass-fed beef or turkey burgers, or add generously to salads.