Healthy Food Matters

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Can the foods we eat enhance brain health, and help manage neurological conditions such as migraine headaches, memory disorders, and certain autoimmune diseases? Can eating certain foods effect our mood and control depression, as well as play a major role in weight loss?  We eat for sustenance, and for pleasure. But what we put in our mouths–carbohydrates or fats, whole foods or processed foods– may have a significant effect on our brains and overall health. Hippocrates said “Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food.”  It is known that certain foods can prevent or reverse certain conditions, including hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and high cholesterol. It is becoming increasingly clear that eating certain foods cause chronic inflammation which is the root cause of many serious illnesses – including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. This article will review the top 3 diets touted for their heart-health benefits, as well as their realistic and sustainable way to reduce disease-causing inflammation.

What is inflammation?

It is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response.  Inflammation on the surface of the body is seen as local redness, heat, swelling and pain.  It brings nourishment and immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists in our bodies or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes several age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as psychological disorders, especially depression.  Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to environmental toxins (like secondhand tobacco smoke) can all contribute to chronic inflammation.  In addition, dietary choices play a large role in chronic inflammation, so much so that most people go through life in a pro-inflammatory state as a result of what they eat.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) 

Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) or the typical diet of most Americans is high in meat, dairy, fat, sugar, refined and processed foods. This diet includes a low intake of fruits and vegetables and creates an acidic environment that promotes disease. There is good news, however. Several studies have shown that switching to a plant-based diet can help prevent and even reverse some of the top killer diseases in the Western world, including heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Additionally, a  plant-based diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, improve memory, aid with weight control and can be more effective than medication and surgery. Even after years of eating the standard American diet, it is possible to reduce chronic disease risk by eating healthier.

sad diet

The Dash Diet

This diet aims to prevent or control high blood pressure by following a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).  This heart-healthy diet is high in fiber and low in saturated fats and sugars.It is also rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium.  Nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber are crucial to fending off or fighting high blood pressure. By predominately eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, while shunning foods high in salt, calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red
meat, followers may be able to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular risk factors, as well as lose weight.

dash diet

The MIND Diet

The MIND diet stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.”  This diet takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean– and targets the foods in each diet that specifically affect brain health. It aims to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and lower the risk of mental decline by eating from 10 “brain-healthy foods.”  These foods include most importantly green leafy vegetables in particular, but all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. Meanwhile, the five unhealthy groups should be avoided.  These include red meats, butter and stick margarine, dairy products, including cheese, pastries & sweets, and fried or fast food. It comes as no surprise that these “brain-unhealthy” foods that are frowned on in the MIND  diet are also tied to weight gain. By avoiding these foods, not only will you stave off dementia, but you may take off pounds as well.

mediterranean diet

You should now be convinced that the foods we eat can enhance brain health, and help manage neurological conditions such as migraine headaches, memory disorders, and certain autoimmune diseases.  Finally, adopting a healthy lifestyle which includes eating a diet of fresh, whole ingredients, limiting the amount of processed foods, exercising and getting a proper amount of sleep are the most important factors to prevent or reverse high blood pressure, diabetes and other health conditions – and it may slim your waistline as well!.

Belinda A. Savage-Edwards, MD is a board certified Neurologist and Electromyographer. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Savage-Edwards uses her Neurology practice as a vehicle to teach the importance of a healthy lifestyle in preventing such conditions as migraine headaches, stroke, memory disorders and certain autoimmune diseases.

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