Here’s to Being a Fathead

Brain Power = EFAs

If Someone Calls You a Fathead, That Could Be a Good Thing

Throughout his career, Jerre has made a study of the human brain and learning. In fact, he has a PhD. in Learning Theory, and as far back as his teaching career goes, Jerre’s been active in ensuring that students get proper nutrition for their brains. Meeting Gloria brought Jerre’s knowledge and understanding into sharper focus, and  both continue to research this important topic.

Because school began for so many students this month, we’re focusing this blog on the following important considerations about learning and the brain:

  • The human brain is comprised of about 60% fat, so it’s important that everyone get the right amounts of the right types of dietary fat to promote proper brain function. Yup, if someone calls you a fathead, that actually may be a good thing.
  • Over the past 100 years, the amount of brain-healthy fats people consume has decreased by as much as 80% (Schmidt, Michael A. Brain Building Nutrition). Yes, consuming too much fat—especially the wrong kind of fat—can cause disease, but avoiding fats altogether is not the answer, either. It takes a balanced, informed approach (and the fat-free marketing hype of the food industry is no help when it comes to making sure the brain has sufficient amounts of the right types of fats to do its job).
  • All fats are comprised of fatty acids. There are many groups of fatty acids, and all of these groups have sub-groups.
  • You’ve likely heard about one group of important fatty acids: Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs for short). Since your body doesn’t make them, it’s essential to get EFAs from food or food supplements—which is why they’re called essential fatty acids.
  • EFAs perform countless critical functions within the body and are especially important for proper brain function. In fact, our research shows that poor concentration (as well as depression, suicidal thoughts, and aggression) all have been linked to a shortage of EFAs.
  • National food guidelines are woefully silent on the matter of EFAs, but we have a lot to say about them. We can’t include much in a short blog, but Chapters 6 and 7 of our book EAT to Save Your Life focus on fats and their vital role in human health—including brain health.
  • You’ve probably also heard about Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are one of several groups of EFAs. They’re found mainly in oily, cold water fish but also in grass-fed meat, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, krill oil, walnuts, and Brazil nuts. It’s important to note that heat damages delicate EFAs, so nuts and seeds should be raw (never salted or roasted) and refrigerated (at the store and at home). Similarly, oils should be cold-pressed (not refined) and kept in the fridge.
  • Because heavy metals settle on the ocean floor, and inland waterways tend to have problems with pollutants, we avoid shellfish as well as fish from rivers, lakes, streams, and coastal farms. Instead, we prefer to eat fish that inhabit the upper regions of deep, cold, ocean waters. Think: wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel.
  • DHA is one key member of the Omega-3 family of fatty acids, and it’s very concentrated in the brain (especially in the part that does complex thinking). DHA can improve a person’s mood, behavior, and ability to learn—perhaps not in all cases, but often enough to make DHA supplementation an important aspect of any nutritional regimen for students or for anyone interested in optimum brain function. After all, 97% of the Omega-3 fats in a child’s brain consist of DHA.
  • Although studies vary on this issue, it’s our view that food supplements are your best source of Omega-3 fatty acids (including brain-healthy DHA) because EFAs are so easily damaged by modern methods of food harvesting, storing, shipping, and preparing. Our book EAT to Save Your Life provides ten important questions to ask before purchasing any supplement.

Of course, you should always speak to your healthcare provider before starting any supplementation regimen, but we highly recommend EFA supplementation for most people and DHA supplementation, in particular, for people interested in optimum brain function.

Here’s to being a fathead,

Gloria and Jerre


Breakfast Fuels the Brain

Classes started this month for thousands of students. For Jerre, this is the first year in 46 that he hasn’t headed for the classroom, too. He retired last year, so his students won’t hear his usual first-day-of-classes rant about nutrition, brain function, and grades. Instead, he’s going to rant here.

Well—maybe not rant, but it’s important that parents and students in charge of nutritional decisions realize that studies have shown for decades that better nutrition = better grades.

Part of that equation definitely includes breakfast. As a university professor, Jerre demanded that his students always eat a good breakfast before coming to class. The brain uses about 20% of your body’s energy, so it’s important that it have all the right fuel to help students perform.

“Skipping breakfast,” Jerre admonished every semester, “doesn’t prepare your brain for the day’s activities. How do you expect me to teach you if your brain isn’t functioning optimally?”

Every day, he asked what the students had eaten for breakfast and, over time, he discovered they were eating smarter and staying more alert. In the early stages, though, Jerre noticed that his students (and many other people) often chose breakfast foods they thought were nutritious—when they were not.

Some of these less-than-optimal choices included:

  • Instant oatmeal. This cereal is almost pure starch—which turns rapidly to sugar and causes insulin levels to rise faster than some candy bars. Sprinkle the oatmeal with brown sugar (which often is nothing more than white sugar with some molasses thrown in), and it’s a brain-busting breakfast that’s almost pure sugar.
  • Flavored yogurt with syrupy fruit swirling in the bottom. Gloria calls this “designer yogurt”, and it contains too much sugar. That fruit in the bottom is, basically, jam, and the sugar in it can put your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows all day. Feeling groggy during the day? Swap sugar for protein at breakfast and see how you feel.
  • Boxed cereal. Check out the salt and sugar content. Even certified organic brands and those marketed as “healthy” or “heart healthy” often contain more salt per serving than potato chips, and the grains have been so overly processed that there is very little nutrition remaining. In some cases, you might be better off eating the box.
  • Protein shakes. Read the label. Many of these are just glorified milk shakes with way too much sugar and too many chemicals to be of much nutritional value. You might be wiser making your own with some certified organic yogurt, fruit, and sugar-free protein powder. See our book Eat to Save Your Life for a summary of protein powders and which might be best for you.
  • Muffins. Ah! Muffins. These are a staple at breakfast counters and in school breakfast programs. People think muffins are healthy, but let’s look at the ingredients in a typical commercially-prepared muffin: white flour, sugar, rancid vegetable oil, preservatives. Do you see anything in that list that might be good for your body and brain? See our book Eat to Save Your Life for an explanation of why the oils in muffins turn rancid when cooked and wreak havoc with your cells.

Here are five of our favorite quick breakfast choices to take any student from Monday to Friday at school:

  • Slow cooking, steel cut oatmeal with easily-digested goat yogurt, phytonutrient-rich blueberries, protein-rich pecans, and a sprinkle of inflammation-fighting cinnamon. Don’t have time to cook in the morning? Make the oatmeal ahead (in fact, make several days’ worth ahead), and put it in the fridge. The oatmeal warms up quickly in a double boiler or microwave oven. Add the goat milk, yogurt, blueberries, nuts, and cinnamon after the oatmeal is heated through, and your make-ahead breakfast tastes great.
  • Plain yogurt with your own fresh fruit cut into it. You can layer the yogurt and fruit in a glass to create a breakfast parfait, and top it with (just a little) granola for crunch.
  • Cottage cheese with diced fresh tomato, a little onion, maybe some fresh asparagus, and a hot, boiled egg (soft, medium, or hard boiled) sliced on top. Serve some fresh orange wedges on the side for vitamin C and fiber, and skip the prepared orange juice.
  • Eggs in any form. Serve them poached or boiled on stoneground, certified organic, whole wheat bread—or make a frittata or omelet and fill it with lots of colorful veggies. Why color? See our website and read all about it.
  • Stoneground, certified organic, whole grain bread with ½ avocado spread on it, topped with a thick slice of fresh tomato, a small drizzle of olive oil, and two slices of Swiss cheese.

These breakfasts take no more than 8 minutes to make (some take less than one minute), so please don’t skip breakfast because you feel too rushed in the morning. If you can’t get up ten minutes earlier to get your day (and your brain) off to a good start, it may be time to closely assess your nutritional status and sleep hygiene.

Here’s to a yummy breakfast—and a great start for your active brain.

Gloria and Jerre


Food and the Power of Marketing

Jerre’s teenage grandchildren visited him this week. Last summer, Jerre’s grandson copy-edited our book Eat to Save Your Life with skill and efficiency. He and his sister know a great deal about nutrition, and even chided Grandpa last week for having a bag of potato chips in the cupboard. That errant bag of starch, salt, unhealthy fat, and (likely) nutrient-robbing olestra constituted a rare summer vacation indulgence, and they caught him.

So, imagine Jerre’s surprise when these savvy teenagers requested Nutella® breakfast spread because they were under the impression it is good for them.

“It has hazelnuts in it, Grandpa, and milk powder, and cocoa. Hazelnuts and milk are healthy,” they argued, “and pure cocoa contains more antioxidants than blueberries.”

Sounds pretty good, right? What had escaped them, though, is that the first item on the list of ingredients is sugar. Even more, a two tablespoon serving (the serving size recommended by the package), contains 21 grams of sugar. Twenty-one grams of sugar! That’s more than five teaspoons of pancreas-hammering, immune-suppressing sugar spread on a child’s toast at breakfast.

To make matters worse, it’s a product that’s marketed on television and online as a healthy breakfast choice—and it’s just one shining example among many of how media and marketing affect our food choices.

In fact, in our media-driven world, where television and print advertising have been joined by computers, cell phones, and other digital devices, fresh organically grown vegetables, steel-cut oats, stoneground whole grains, and healthy lean proteins are getting pushed off consumers’ plates around the world in favor of factory foods offering convenience and specious claims about nutritional benefits.

Manufacturers purchase heart healthy logos for their breakfast cereal packaging, yogurt makers promote miniscule amounts of probiotics in their products, and pasta makers tout the benefits of vegetables (processed to the end of their nutritional lives) incorporated into mixtures of white flour, salt, sodium phosphates, natural flavors (often, code for MSG), and colorant.

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Advertising is Not Nutritional Advice

Looks good? Look closer.

A few days ago, First Lady Michelle Obama was interviewed on television regarding her new book that celebrates the White House kitchen garden and gardens throughout the United States. During that interview, one of her comments made us sit up and take note. She explained that, before her husband was elected President, her family had been a typical busy family with two working parents—likely eating out too much rather than cooking at home and sipping too many sugary drinks. Then, a pediatrician recommended examining her girls’ diets.

“I was kinda stunned,” she said, “because we were healthy people, and I thought I was doing everything I was supposed to do” (Michelle Obama, on The View August 14, 2012).

Mrs. Obama is among millions of intelligent, educated people who think they’re doing well nutritionally when they may not be. We wonder how many people know that quick-cooking rolled oats raise blood sugar faster than a chocolate bar or that “natural flavoring” on a label may actually refer to MSG.

We wonder if people realize there are commercial tomato growers in Florida raising tomatoes not in soil, but in sand that has been sterilized with methyl bromide (one of the most toxic agricultural chemicals that exists), and factory farms raising chickens in cages so small the birds can’t stand up or spread their wings. The birds’ beaks are cut off so they can’t peck one another through the bars, and their feed contains regular doses of antibiotics to reduce diseases spread by the overcrowded conditions.

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Summertime—and the Livin’ is Sneezey Part 2

Last week, we blogged about summer colds because we’ve noticed so many of them around this year, and we offered 10 Tips to help keep your immune system strong and tap into the incredible healing power of your own body. As two people who don’t recall when we last had a cold, we promised to let you in on a secret weapon that Gloria uses when the first signs of a scratchy throat or achy limbs herald the onset of a cold. Well—here it is:

Gloria’s Tickle Cocktail:

  • One triple dose of vitamin C with bioflavonoids
  • One triple dose of garlic tablets
  • One triple dose of Echinacea
  • Extra Vitamin D3

Gloria takes these supplements with food three times per day until the symptoms subside plus a few extra days to ensure her immune system has dealt with the virus completely and not merely suppressed it. So that’s three, three, three plus D3: three vitamin C with bioflavonoids three times per day, three garlic three times per day, and three Echinacea three times per day (for a total of nine of each supplement per day).

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