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Entries in diet (2)


To Eat or not to Eat...That is the Question

How does our attitude about food affect how successful we can be to achieve a healthy weight?

Angelina comes home from work at 8:30pm. Her team at work has successfully completed a month long project today and all she wants to do is to go home, have a couple glasses of wine, some comfort food and desert to reward herself. She is 5'6 165lbs. She used to be 130lbs when she was younger, but the weight has slowly crept up over the years. She has tried various weight loss programs and has been able to loose 20-25 lbs or so, but she seems to always gain it back. Why? What are some obstacles to her keeping the weight off? 

Growing up, Angelina's mom always rewarded her for good behavior with ice cream. Her mother would have lots of cheese and crackers if she was having a bad day to soothe herself. If she was having an especially bad day, she would say to her daughter, "Mommy's tummy looks so fat. I wish I looked like you. You make sure you don't eat too much so you stay pretty."

Many of my patients and friends believe that the less they eat, the less they weight. Calories in = Calories out. But that is not true. When you consume a food with less calories, for example a plain bagel, 70 calories (Panera Bread plain bagel 290 cal), compared to 2 eggs, 170 calories; it is natural to choose the bagel with 70 calories because it has the lowest calories. However the bagel is a carbohydrate, which means if you don't burn it, it gets converted by the liver into fat. The egg is protein and has much less of an effect on weight. Also, the bagel has almost no nutritional value, so when you consume it, your body is still asking you for more food, because it is nutrient deficient and you are more likely to crave more food after consuming the bagel. A study shows that people who consume zero calorie beverages are more likely to gain weight in 1 year than people who drink non-diet drinks. That is not to say that I am advocating for sugary non-diet drinks, but the zero calorie drinks may be worse because of the chemical effects the artificial sweeteners have on your brain, programing your brain to crave more food, because it is empty nutrition. Every type of food sends a different signal to your metabolism, so choose foods that are nutrient dense, and your brain will get the signal that you are satiated. This will help reduce cravings.

Another tendency I see is that people believe that the less they eat, the less they weigh. So especially with my busy patients, this is both convenient and works with their innocently misguided beliefs. Many people will have a coffee and skip breakfast, then have a light lunch at noon and not eat for 8 hours till they get back home from work. By that time they are starving, and will binge on foods for the rest of the evening. They often tend to eat more than they would have, if they had eaten nutrient dense meals and snacks during the day when the point of "hunger to no return arrives". Nutrient dense foods such as good quality proteins and healthy fats induce a chemical called somatostatin, that makes you full. Therefore, having these foods combined with fruits and vegies (which generally have zero effect on your weight), will help you feel full and reduce cravings. When you are overly hungry, your blood sugar drops very low which sends a message to your brain to eat the fastest thing that will elevate your blood sugar. That would be sugar and carbohydrates! But these foods will turn into fat if you don't burn them. So please eat breakfast and it is generally healthy to have some food every 3-4 hours.

Lastly with popular culture, we have often associated the word diet with beauty and restriction of food. This can have profound psychological effects on us when we view food this way. Hippocrates said, "let food be your medicine". So perhaps instead of thinking about restricting foods or calories; what if the paradigm was shifted to, "what foods can I choose to have more of, that nourish my body". And if you have more of nutrient dense foods, you probably would just naturally be more full and not want foods that do not support your body. I believe we all should live life, so do not feel bad if you ocassionally have deserts, or choose whatever you like when you eat out. Let's not punish ourselves with guilt that should not be. Rather let us be educated and make decisions that support our wellbeing. If you generally had 80-90% healthy foods, you would feel quite well. If you have 60% or more vegetables and fruit on your plate, you would also feel quite well. So to eat or not to eat, I'd say eat with gratitude.



How does dietary fat consumption affect the brain?

Did you know that the make up of your cell membrane depends on what you eat? In that sense, you are what you eat. The way your brain talks to your body is via cell-to-cell communication along nerves or neuronal tissue. If you eat a lot of trans fats such as those found in vegetable shortening, fried foods, and arachadonic acid found in red meat, these fats send an inflammatory signal to the nervous system.

Inflammation in the nervous system causes in increase in glutamate, which is an excitatory chemical in the brain. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety, hyperactivity, addictive tendencies and in-attention. Increase in inflammation and glutamate in the brain long term from chronic excessive brain firing causes neuron damage. This contributes to degenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease develop due to the oxidative damage this excessive inflammation produces. Also, consumption of inflammatory fats make cell membranes hard and rigid, blocking cell-to-cell communication.

If you eat lots of omega-3 fats found in fish, flax and walnuts your cell membranes are nice and malleable improving the structure and function of receptors on the cell. This allows for brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine to communicate better with the cell helping positive mood, attention and memory. Another large component of cell membranes are phospholipids such as phosphatidyl choline and serine, which are found in high concentrations in the brain. They help balance stress hormone levels, decrease anxiety, improve memory, improve mood, and decrease aggression. Phospholipids can be found in lecithin, soy lecithin, egg yolks, sardines and nuts.  

Many studies show a correlation between depression and deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid is “one of the major building structures of membrane phospholipids of the brain and absolutely necessary for neuronal function”. The British Journal of Psychiatry, Did a study on prisoners. One group had their regular prison diet, and the other group was supplemented with Omega-3 fats. The prisoners who were given omega-3 fats had a 35% reduction in violent crime in prison. I’ve seen in my practice patients having great symptom improvement from depressive mood, anxiety and improvement in focus on a therapeutic dose of EPA and DHA.

Often times we think of supplements that are neurotransmitter specific first when seeing brain issues, but it is important to remember that basic nutritional sufficiency can make a very large difference in neurology. Be careful of low fat fad diets, as these diets often compromise brain function and lead to teenage learning problems and depression. Your brain needs fat to function, so eat the good fats.