Fitness, Mental Health, Nutrition, Weight Loss

Nutrition and The Brain

In my 20’s I was eating healthy because I wanted to fit into a nice pair of jeans.

In my 30’s I wanted to eat healthy for the energy I could get from wholesome food.

Next month I turn 40!  And for the last few months, I have felt my mindset migrate into the ways eating well affects my mind!  I don’t want to start forgetting things, and I value my mind so much more than when I was younger.  I want to keep my mind!!

Right about the time I was thinking about this, my husband got a flyer in the mail for some continuing education credits (He’s a nurse) by attending a course called:

Food for Thought: How Nutrients Affect the Brain by Michael Lara, MD

I’m what they call an eternal student. (I love school!), so I immediately signed up for his seminar.

If I could sum up what I think tied the whole seminar together, is the idea that inflammation is the root cause of our mental problems, longevity, disease, obesity, sleep, and mood.

The damage of inflammation:

  • Inflammation can increase cortisol (which in excess will increase fat storage and actually shrink the hippocampus leading to memory loss)
  • It may increase depression, type 2 Diabetes and Ashthma)
  • It has been shown to play a role in Alzheimers
  • Inflammation can affect appetite
  • Prolonged inflammation will actually shorten life expectancy

Some things we know about that will cause excessive and chronic inflammation:

  • Chronic Stress
  • Dietary Sugar!  
  • Lack of sleep (specifically phase 3 and 4 sleep)
  • Not just what you eat, but the manner of which you eat- For example, eating on the run causes inflammation!

Some anti-inflammatory things include:

  • Fruits, vegetables, fish, walnuts, flax, and whole grains
  • Deep sleep  (anti-inflammatory processes happen during phase 3 and 4 of deep sleep)
  • Exercise (although excessive exercise is pro-inflammatory)
  • Green tea
  • Red wine
  • Dark chocolate
  • Omega 3’s

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be the most beneficial for being anti-inflammatory.  Although, I like his version (adding physical activity to the bottom of the pyramid)

Some awesome nuggets of info i wrote down during the class:

– Chronic stress increases cortisol, which shrinks hippocampus, causing memory loss.  There are two ways to increase the size of the hippocampus back to normal, restoring memory.  Anti-depressant drugs actually do this, but so does aerobic exercise!  The increased oxygen to the brain repairs the hippocampus. (LOVE THIS ONE!)

-Resveratol, the ingredient in red wine that protects tissues inside the blood vessels, is also found in grape skins.

-The benefits of nutrients on health is usually only seen when consumed in it’s natural form over long periods of time.

– The key is balance.   It’s not as simple to say, “If you are low in serotin, increase tryptophan, because too much seratonin is also a problem.  Balance is vital.

-The brain uses 25% of the glucose in our body. If too low, mood can become impatient, irritable, and aggressive.  This means, although excessive sugar is toxic, we still need sugar!  In the 1800’s humans ate about 5lbs of sugar per person per year. Probably completely appropriate. Now we are at toxic levels with 120+lbs per person per year.

-Weight Loss

  • Rather than thinking of ways to reduce calories, think about ways to reduce inflammation!  Stress less, and walk in nature more.  Prolonged exercise (like marathon training) causes inflammation.  Instead opt for walks in nature.
  • Our bodies have not evolved to have 24/7 access to food.  Rather we went through periods of starving to periods of feasting.  Intermittent fasting (a few days a week, not eating between 6pm and noon the next day has  been shown to decrease inflammation. 
  • Dr. Lara’s 5 steps to reducing inflammation in order to lose weight:


  • There is clear evidence that exercise during the day, improves the architecture of sleep at night! You sleep better, and get into the stages 3 and 4 of sleep, which is when the anti-inflammatory processes kick in!

So, this is the key information that stood out to me!  I definitely agreed with much that he said, although I’m just reporting what I learned today, not interpreting any of it.  Even Dr. Lara said, everyone is different.    Cutting back on inflammatory foods and activities may not help you lose weight, if you aren’t excessively inflammed to begin with! Everyone is different.

For further reference or questions, the entire slide show can be seen here.  The presenters website here. (I have no affiliation with this presenter and paid for the seminar with my own money)

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