What’s Good for the Brain is Also Good for the Body!

Brain Based learning And Diet

Wow, what an amazing first few weeks of summer. Thanks to everyone who has registered for our summer programs. We are sold out and our groups enjoyed the learning and the great city of San Antonio, Texas. The city is full of superb restaurants. We’re going to take a cognitive break and focus on eating.

And that reminds me of a true story…

On most of our visits to local restaurants, the waitress typically asks for the drink order, and second, brings bread or chips. I wish I could tell you that I always resist, but I don’t. But, maybe I should resist, and you should too. Why? Are either of these “restaurant staples” really a good idea?

Breads and alcohol are carbohydrates and some are better than others. This is hard for me to say (as a bread-lover), but less bread in your diet is better. Pass on the breads at the restaurant. Alcohol is, of course, not good for the brain. Some anti-aging effects may be in red wine – but that’s an exception, so keep your intake levels to low or moderate. Alcohol consumption prior to a meal sets off a neurochemical chain reaction in the brain that encourages us to eat more (Yeomans et al., 2003). People who drink more alcohol tend to consume more calories, especially from the foods that contain much higher percentages of fats (cholesterol and all forms of fatty acids) (Kesse et al., 2001). Sounds unfair, doesn’t it?

A study of nearly 73,000 middle-aged and highly educated women, whose drinking habits ranged from abstinence to heavy drinkers, found that cholesterol intake was 32 percent higher in heavy drinkers than nondrinkers; caloric intake was 29.5 percent higher among drinkers, and consumption of animal products, cheese, processed meats, vegetable oil, potatoes, breakfast cereals and coffee increased among alcohol drinkers.

Also, the intake of vegetables decreased among this group. Wine was the drink of choice among two thirds of the drinkers. Other research suggests that alcohol’s appetite-stimulating factors may contribute to the excess accumulation of abdominal fat found often in persons who drink regularly (Dorn et al., 2003).

Does any of this research apply to you? If you eat out at restaurants just three times a month and you modified your eating on two of the three visits (the other one is a “free pass” and you can eat the way you have before), miracles could occur.

How? I knew you’d ask.

In your two visits a month, instead of bread and alcohol, have iced tea (sweetened with Stevia) and no bread. This simple action will save you 200-400 calories per visit. Add up 24 visits per year and you get 4800-9,600 calories a year. Over five years, this works out to an extra 10-30 pounds. Plus, if you behaved on two of the three visits, you got to keep the one visit per month that allowed you to have the bread and alcohol.

Now that you’re already looking leaner and healthier, what else can you do this summer?

AM Drinks: Hot tea, real (100%) fruit juice and coffee are all good choices. Fruit juice (the real stuff) contains plenty of sugars that can ramp up energy. Both tea and coffee are likely to have some caffeine which helps alert the brain. Stay away from the artificial sweeteners (like Equal® and NutraSweet®). The three ingredients in them, at the point when they enter the central nervous system in typical high concentrations, are nasty for the brain. They can cause aberrant neuronal firing and potential cell death. The neurotoxic effects of these are linked to headaches, mental confusion, balance problems and possibly seizures. Worse, the effects are subtle, cumulative and develop over a prolonged period of time. Do words like poor cognitive function, crankiness, fuzzy thinking or even cancer sound good to you?

Of the approximately 120 independent studies conducted on aspartame, over 90 percent have demonstrated significant health risks. Instead sweeten with Stevia®. Also, avoid the fake dairy products, such as Coffee Mate® and go with the real thing, milk.

Breakfast Carbohydrates: Complex carbos are great for the brain. The list is short: oatmeal, grits, Cream of Wheat, and Wheatena. Whole grain breads are good, but keep them to a minimum. Reduce your intake of all breads by 90% (I did this “cold turkey”) when I started gaining the weight that I didn’t need. With breads (rolls, sliced, muffins, biscuits, toast, etc.) you’ll be astonished how fast the pounds start dropping!

Breakfast Proteins: If you’re not having a complex carbo breakfast, enjoy proteins and fruit. Proteins facilitate production of the “upper” neurotransmitters (dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine). These, in moderate amounts, are linked to mental alertness. Suggested breakfast foods are: eggs (hard-boiled, poached or scrambled). Plastics release toxins fast under heat: so avoid microwaving anything in plastic, and avoid frying with Teflon (compounds like Teflon and plastics have countless untested chemicals). Better to be safe than sorry.

Fresh Fruits: Best ones are ones with a skin, to avoid the scourge of pesticides (choose bananas, oranges, pineapples, papayas and pineapples). The apples, peaches, and pears and strawberries have thin skins that are more likely to absorb pesticides.

PM Drinks: Water, Iced tea, hot tea, coffee (if it’s cold outside). Keep your consumption of soft drinks to the minimum and cut them out entirely if you can. Welch’s 100% Concord Grape Juice, Fresh squeezed orange juice or carrot juice are all high in sugar energy, good tasting and well liked! Avoid drinks with “high fructose corn syrup.” Some research suggests it can interfere with liver function, dysregulate the body’s glucose levels and contribute towards obesity.

Good Snacks: Raisins (set out those mini-lunch box sizes), small yogurts (plain is best, avoid those with high-fructose corn syrup), and nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews or Brazil nuts). Chocolates are good, but buy the higher quality bars with 60-70% cocoa. In lower quality chocolate, you get too much sugar and fat. For most situations, get the imported Belgian or Swiss chocolate (Di Tomaso, et al, 1996). It has far less fat, sugar and butter with a higher percentage of cocoa. Chocolate stimulates the production of phenyethylamine, a mild mood enhancer, theobromine and caffeine, both stimulants.

Let’s cut to the chase: everything you do is likely to have SOME effect on the brain.

Brain-based education says, “Be purposeful about it.” Now, go have some fun and make another miracle happen!


Di Tomaso, E.; M. Beltramo; and D. Piomelli. (1996). Brain cannabinoids in chocolate (letter), Nature, Aug. 22; 382(6593): 677-678.

Dorn, J. M., Hovey, K., Muti, P., Freudenheim, J. L., Russell, M., Nochakski, T. H., & Trevisan, M. (2003, Aug). Alcohol drinking patters differentially affect central adiposity as measured by abdominal height in women and men. Journal of Nutrition, 133(8), 2655-62.

Kesse, E., Clavel-Chapelon, F., Slimani, N., van liere, M., & E3N Group (2001, Sept). Do eating habits differ according to alcohol consumption? Results of a study of the French cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(3), 322-7.

Yeomans, M. R., Caton, S., & Hetherington, M. M. (2003, Nov). Alcohol and food intake. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 6(6), 639-44.

Creative Commons License photo credit: neil conway

1 reply
  1. lia
    lia says:

    Since you are research based, I urge you to look into paleo diets, and to read the highly regarded, well researched book “good calories, bad calories” by Gary Taubes. It has revolutionized my thinking, and I have to say I am thinking so much more clearly, and I am much more focused, since going paleo. There is much research to show that our brains developed into human brains through eating very high fat diets, without any grains, and since the agricultural revolution, our brains have shrunk and diminished in capabilities. I am so glad you said not to eat bread, but I encourage you, for 30 days, to omit ALL grains and cereals, and sugars of course, increase your fats (yes, even saturated ones) and see the tremendous difference it makes. The first two weeks were hell due to withdrawal symptoms, but after that I have been flying high since, and already many life long health problems are disappearing. The added focus was a surprise, I had no idea this would happen, but after going on forums this is a very common effect for many people. Just a thought, and encouragement to you to “think outside the box” and reserve judgement until you check it out!

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