Whether you want to support your brain health, relieve stress and anxiety about caregiving responsibilities, or just want to rev up your energy, stamina and immunity, here are some ways to protect your health and support your mood.
Start your day with an energizing breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar, so your mood stays even and you can perform at your best. When blood sugar is too high or low it’s a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. If you’re nauseous in the morning it means your blood sugar is low.
Eat within one hour upon rising and by 10am, and make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium.
Breakfast of Champions
- Top a bagel or slice of whole wheat break with a fried egg, sliced tomato, avocado, slice of low-fat cheese
- Bagel topped with hummus, tomato, goat cheese
- Spread a tablespoon of almond butter on a piece of bread or bagel
- Yogurt/granola parfait with fresh fruit
- Sautéed greens (kale or spinach) and onion, and a corn tortilla topped with eggs, beans, sprinkle of cheese, salsa
- Oatmeal or multi-grain cereal with almonds or walnuts, prunes, cinnamon, flax seed meal, Greek yogurt
- Spinach mushroom omelet with salsa, berries and wheat toast
- Whole-grain mini-quiche with ½ cup of berries
Our body is 50-65% water. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain, which is 70% water, gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference. Choose smoothies, fresh juices, water, herbal teas.
Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).
Serotonin is necessary for a stable mood.
A deficiency can result in depression, irritability, sudden tears, insomnia, anxiety, or panic attacks, binge eating, carbohydrate craving, an overactive mind, and low tolerance to stress. When chronic stress is combined with nutrient deficiencies because of poor eating habits the risk of mood disorders can increase.
Foods that enhance serotonin: Salmon, Soy, turkey, cheese, eggs, spinach, cottage cheese, nuts, milk, avocado, meat, chocolate
Activities that enhance serotonin: cross crawl movement, as in swimming, hiking, biking
Dopamine keeps us focused and motivated. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as a “gas pedal” neurotransmitter. A deficiency can result in depressed mood, excessive sleeping, eight gain, obesity, lack of energy, addictions. When in balance, dopamine increases alertness, wakefulness, energy. It is depleted by addictions, sugar, cigarettes.
Foods that enhance dopamine: Meat, wild game, eggs, chocolate, blueberries, yoghurt, milk, soy, cheese, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes.
Activities than enhance dopamine: Deep breathing, weight bearing exercise and strength training enhance dopamine.
GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing. Too many carbs and refined foods deplete GABA. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.
Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, especially helps you fall asleep.
How to boost your neurotransmitters
- Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and veggies) and eliminate junk foods or refined carbs.
- Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day. Include a high-quality protein with every meal
- Unlimited amounts of fresh veggies
- Eat a good breakfast
Do you lie awake at night?
Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger. Although insomnia isn’t considered a disease by itself, it can lead to numerous health problems. Lack of sleep may result in slower reflexes, irritability, fatigue, lack of motivation and depression. Your health, motivation, productivity, mood and energy all depend on getting quality sleep.
Foods that promote sleep
Although it’s not recommended to have a full meal close to bedtime, eating a snack helps maintain blood sugar levels, which helps promote restful sleep.
A cheese slice, or slice of turkey contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid, that promotes sleep. Other foods that might help: Whole grain crackers with nut butter, oatmeal, popcorn, almonds and walnuts. Some fruits (oranges, bananas, tart cherries, kiwis) contain melatonin.
- Small amount of protein
- Complex carbs
- Cottage cheese
- Chamomile tea, warm milk
Eat more healthy fats and skip the hydrogenated and trans fats found in doughnuts, potato chips and other pastries and desserts. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA.
Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.
Make Healthy Choices
- Water, green tea, herbal teas
- Nuts & seeds
- Avocado, olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids
- Fresh fruits and Veggies
- Fish, high-quality protein
- SOUL foods (seasonal, organic, unadulterated, local)
- Sugar alternatives: stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, birch sugar, honey
- Coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners
- Chips, cookies, pastries, candy
- Poor quality fats (hydrogenated,
- Processed lunch meats
- Dairy products with rBGH (growth hormones)
Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, always think protein!
Build your meal around chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese or eggs, and then add low-starch vegetables or fruits. The general rule is to eat 3-4 ounces of lean, dense meat or 6 ounces of fish. Women should aim for around 30 grams of protein. Men should aim for around 40 grams of protein. Another rule of thumb is to divide your plate in half. Fill half of the plate with veggies, one quart with a protein, and the other quarter with a whole grain such as quinoa, rice, barley, etc.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.