Eating for Your Brain with Dr. Lisa Mosconi
"Brain aging is more diet than destiny."
We’ve talked about eating for our brains before on the show, but are you consistently applying these principles in your everyday life? What are the consequences of a poor diet on our brain health and brain aging?
Today’s guest is here to tell us how what we eat can not only improve our focus and memory but avoid disease and lengthen our lives. An international researcher in Alzheimer’s prevention, author of the incredible book Brain Food, and a nutrition expert and neuroscientist, today’s guest Lisa Mosconi has years of invaluable nutrition and neuroscience knowledge from a career spent working to prevent brain deterioration.
The food we eat matters to our grey matter. What we eat can affect our health, our thinking, our lifespan and whether we end up at risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life. Some of our brains is predetermined by genetics and biology, but much of it remains in our control — and the best way to start building a healthier, stronger brain is to start paying attention to the food you eat.
In this episode, we’ll give you some quick tips for helping your brain through hydration and nutrition. We’ll tell you about the best foods to help your brain function, the best foods for you to avoid, and why when you eat matters. We’ll discuss the connections between a poor diet and Alzheimer’s, what you can do to minimize your risk of the disease and explain how diet shows up on brain scans. We’ll share a bunch of practical tips to help you build a healthier, clearer brain, build on the right foods.
LISA’S BEST BRAIN TIP
- Drink water! The brain is 80% water, even just a 2-4% water loss in the brain is enough to produce fatigue, confusion, dizziness, memory lapses, difficulties sleeping, difficulty concentrating
- Warm water is the best way to rehydrate—vasodilating, promotes absorption into the body (cold water is more constricting)
- You can check out the two MRI brain scan images we’re talking about in our Kwik Brain video here!
- On these scans the brain looks white and grey, fluids look black
- 1st scan: 52 y.o woman, Mediterranean diet. ideally, have ventricles tight, have the brain fill up as much as possible of the cranial cavity—close as possible to the bone. Want the grey matter (hippocampus) to be close to the white matter. Ideal conditions for neurogenesis in adults
- 2nd scan: brain on the Western diet—burgers, fries, and the brain shows it. Ventricles are much larger, more fluids (black) around the entire brain. The temporal lobe and hippocampus are surrounded by black—meaning they are shrinking. These symptoms are a red flag for Alzheimer’s later in life
- How much is genetics, how much is lifestyle? Brain aging is more diet than destiny
- When Lisa first started at college—everyone understood Alzheimer’s as the consequence as bad genes, aging or a combination of two
- Now, it’s universally accepted that neither of these are the case—genomics, brain imaging have helped improve understanding
- The 3 genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s are found in less than 1% of the population
- Only 6% of families affected by Alzheimer’s have these genetic mutations, 94% of patients with Alzheimer’s don’t have these mutations
- Genetics are not as deterministic as we thought — though they are still important, increase vulnerability
BEST BRAIN FOODS
- Our brains are built on food—specific foods and nutrients
- Blood-brain barrier: shields brain, regulates the passage of substances to the brain
- Caviar: polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega 3, protein, antioxidants, vitamins
- For vegetarians and vegans: almonds and flax seeds (need to grind them to release nutrients),
- Types of fatty acids: DHA (the type your brain wants), EPA (precursor to DHA), and ALA in plant foods—your body needs to convert this to DHA, and in this process, 75% is lost
- Aim to intake 4g of DHA every day — 70% reduced the risk of dementia. This is about 3 ounces, a handful of almonds, extra-virgin olive oil
- If you’re on a vegetarian diet you’ll need to eat 3x this amount
- Vegan DHA supplements are available
FOODS HARMFUL TO THE BRAIN
- Anything processed—a combination of too much trans-saturated fat & cholesterol
- Increases risk of dementia: studies suggest people who eat 2g of trans saturated fat per day have twice the risk of dementia compared to people who eat less than 1g
- Harmful foods to avoid if possible: spreads (fake butter spreads), whipped creams, fake cheese, baked goods like muffins, cold cuts (deli ham etc.)
- Red wine is a brain food due to the antioxidants — but drink in moderation, never on an empty stomach, and pair with fatty food to help absorb the nutrients
WHEN TO EAT
- Caloric restriction has positive effects on the brain — increase resilience
- Let your body have a break, let it detoxify—stop eating around 7pm and give yourself 12 hours until 7am before you start again
- The researcher mentioned: you can check out an example of Dr. Mattson’s research on caloric restriction at the NIH here
- What constitutes a healthy breakfast is subjective—depends on the individual
- Women may be predisposed to do better on carbs, men do better on fat
- Depending on what you prefer to eat, some ideas are toast with honey, fresh fruit, yogurt with fresh fruit
- Plan ahead and ensure you have some quick brain healthy snacks available
- Treat your brain like your best friend! And you’ll get all the rewards
BEFORE YOU GO
- Screenshot this show and tell us what you’ve learned!
- Don’t forget to tag Lisa (@dr_mosconi on Instagram & Twitter) and Jim (@jimkwik)!
Please note, this episode is educational only and is not intended to diagnose or treat medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.
Related Kwik Brain Episodes You Might Enjoy
Episode 3: 10 Keys to Unlock Optimal Brain Health
Episode 5: My 10 Favorite Brain Foods
Episode 16: My Morning Routine (How To Jumpstart Your Brain & Day)
Episode 74: 7 Steps to Healthy Brain with Dr. Daniel Amen Part 1