“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates
“Food is medicine or poison.” Dr. Amen
My title today comes from Dr. Amen who asks his patients (he is a psychiatrist) that question, among others. I listened to a talk by him recently and found it fascinating. He was talking about food and mood. I studied nutrition as a Registered Nurse and as a Hatha Yoga Instructor. When I worked as a Youth Counsellor at an Ontario Children’s Aid Group Home, Pathways, in the 1980s, nutritious food was considered crucial to a child’s well-being. Pathways was well ahead, then, of many other institutions when it came to eliminating processed foods, buying all organic produce and eliminating sugar from the children’s diet. We all know that the food we eat either supports or does not support our immune system. We also know that obesity, caused by a typical North American diet, is a comorbidity with regard to Covid-19.
Dr. Amen became very interested in food and functioning when one of his patients cut out all gluten and dairy in her young son with a language delay and reported that a week later he had 50 new words. He became even more intrigued when one of his new patients, who had previously been on 17 different medications for his mental health problems, tried Dr. Amen’s elimination diet and found out that when he introduced corn back into his diet, he had an image of himself putting a gun in his mouth. Obviously, he may have loved corn, but corn did not love him. He eliminated it. Dr. Amen subsequently began to do a lot of research on the impact of food and mood, food and focus and food and anxiety.
Dr. Amen has created 11 food rules that incorporate what he has learned. Rule #1: “Only love foods that love you back.” Dr. Amen says that “some foods you love will kill you.” He used some of his bad relationships in his life as a cautionary tale. He says he no longer is with a woman who does not love him back. He is now 65 and married to “his best friend.” He also points out that a lot of what we in North America call “food” is not food! “Food-like substances are destroying Americans’ health.” Rule#2: “Go for the highest quality calories that you can afford.” Calories matter. Make value-based decisions and don’t waste your calories. Measure and weigh your food. Rule#3: “Hydrate.” The body is 70 per cent water and the brain is 80 per cent water. He is okay with you using stevia as sweetener. He squirts chocolate stevia into sparkling water which his grandkids love. He also drinks green and black tea and herbal tea. Rule#4: “Eat high quality protein at every meal.” For example, palm size servings of chicken and fish, and you can have beans, nuts, and broccoli and spinach also have protein. Limit your low quality protein. Rule#5:”Eat and cook with high quality fat.” Sixty per cent of the weight in your brain is fat. Letting your cholesterol get too low is dangerous says Doctor Amen. He suggests nuts, avocados, olives, free range poultry, wild salmon, coconut oil and olive oil (don’t cook with olive oil he says). Rule#6: “Go for smart carbohydrates, not dumb carbohydrates.” These are colourful, not dyed and low glycemic. Plenty of fiber. Fiber is a pre-biotic. He uses spices such as: oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, sage and parsley. Rule#7: “Use herbs and spices like medicine.” For example, saffron is an anti-depressant, tumeric decreases brain plaque. Rule#8: “Make your food as clean as possible.” Read labels, no foods in plastic containers. Rule#9: Eliminate any potential allergens.” Doctor Amen recommends a two week elimination diet. Eliminate all gluten, corn, dairy, soy, artificial dyes and sweeteners. “Food matters.” When one client added back corn, he had the vision mentioned above. There are 15 different names for sugar. Lactose is milk sugar. He recommends The Brain Warrior’s Way cookbook which you can get on Amazon. Rule#10: “Intermittent Fasting”. Autophagy cleans up brain plague. Do not eat within 2-3 hours of bed. It affects your sleep. Rule#11: “Get a routine that helps serve your health rather than hurts it.” Find 24 foods you love that loves you back says Dr. Amen. He suggests create 3 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 10 dinners. “It’s not just about life span but health span.”
As we all know, our best defense against Covid-19 is our immune system. Food can be medicine or poison. Many people have a sugar addiction. Studies have shown sugar to be even more addictive than cocaine. Chronic abuse of sugar may lead to a variety of diseases. Sugar is in everything we eat. Kinesiologist Luke Durward says that one serving of iced tea has 9 teaspoons of sugar and flavoured coffee drinks have up to 25 teaspoons. Jody Stanislow, a Naturopathic Doctor, says she feels awful when she eats sugar. Like Dr. Amen she counsels people to pay close attention to how food makes them feel. The sweeter a food is… She says: “death by sugar is more frequent than deaths by auto accidents.” She says sugar has become a “gradual death sentence.” A girlfriend called her and said she felt kind of awful. She asked what she ate for breakfast. She said, “a vanilla latte and zucchini bread.” She told her friend that vanilla latte is sugar syrup and zucchini bread is “cake without frosting.” Jody recommended eggs or else peanut butter on apple slices. Next day her friend called to tell her how much better she felt with that as her breakfast! Jody said to be aware of foods that are labelled healthy (low fat, high fiber) but are high sugar. She says sugar results in as much damage to the brain as child abuse. Bad but frequently eaten combinations are: pizza and beer, pasta and bread. Her 3 small steps to try: (1) protein for breakfast (2) wanting a snack? Try a glass of water first. Dehydration feels like hunger. (3) Use low-carb replacements. For example, zucchini noodles instead of pasta, cauliflower crust for your pizza and use stevia for sweetener.
Proper nutrition is so important for your brain health. The brain is the most complex organ in your body. There are 100 billion nerve cells says Dr. Amen. “More connections than stars.” Information travels at 268 miles per hour and although the brain is only two per cent of your body’s weight, it uses 20-30 per cent of your calories. The health of your brain either decelerates innovation or accelerates it. Your brain can be hurt in so many ways: brain injuries, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, and environmental toxins among other factors. “When it comes to your brain, size matters. You do not want a smaller brain.” Things that help your brain include positive social connections as well as nutrition. We know about brain plasticity now. We can improve our brain in two months! Amen says: “Never let your kids play tackle football.” Our brain is developing until 25 years of age. “Remember not to believe every stupid thought you have!”
I find Dr. Amen’s work fascinating.
Love & Light, Monica