As should come as no surprise to those well versed in the fields of nutrition and neurology, high functioning people have different cellular functioning, brain cells, habits, and almost always – diets.
The latter point is what I will be writing on today – what smart people eat. The subtitle to this point could be “what you can eat to help make yourself smarter.” In scientific terms – what can you eat to improve your cognitive functioning, cellular health and allow your mitochondria to operate at their full capacity?
I will outline this topic very simply for you. There are three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrate. I will start by informing you that there is absolutely NO requirement for carbohydrate. There is, again, no dietary requirement for intake of carbohydrates. This means that we eat carbs because a) they taste good, b) they’re cheap and c) they’re everywhere. It may come as a surprise to you that I will be recommending a diet low or void of dietary carbohydrate intake.
In the realm of carbohydrates, I will recommend vegetables, an optional, small amount of specific fruits, and a completely optional intake of starchy tubers. In the realm of protein, I will recommend fish, eggs, and meats. In the realm of fat, I will recommend specific oils, and small, optional amounts of nuts. This should give you a rough outline of where this article will be taking you. For those who don’t like to read, but somehow have made it this far, the above sentences are all you need to take from this blog post. However, there is a lot more to the story than that.
Lets start with vegetables. It should come as no surprise to you that vegetables are jam-packed with nutrients, vitamins, phytonutrients, and compounds that are so complex that scientists don’t even yet fully understand them.
For example, spinach, one of the top choices you can consume, contains compounds called epoxyxanthophylls. These are in the carotenoid family. Why are they important? Neoxanthin and violxanthin reduce inflammation, which help stop diseases from forming. A large amount of diseases form from systemic inflammation, especially in its chronic form. Spinach contains a very high amount of these epoxyxanthophylls. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, et al. come from some base form of systemic inflammation.
Broccoli is another vegetable that is massively beneficial to your functioning. Broccoli contains a compound called sulforaphane, which actually has been shown to kill leukemia cells, albeit in a lab setting.
Broccoli, if steamed, has a large amount of fiber-related compounds that will actually help to lower cholesterol. Without steaming it will still help, but not as much. This veggie will also help you lower levels of toxic chemicals in your body through isothiocyanates, which are molecules formed from glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, and glucobrassicin. These are glucosinolate phytonutrients that are found in a unique amount in broccoli.
Vitamin A and K are also found in broccoli, as well as kaempferol, a flavonoid that helps with allergic reactions, and also provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Again, remember: cancer and cardiovascular disease stem from systemic inflammation.
Kale is a vegetable that any health-conscious person has heard of. And with good reason. Besides containing almost all of the benefits and compounds found in spinach and broccoli, kale also contains more than 45 (!) different antioxidant flavonoids.
The vitamin K found in kale is also the largest amount of any vegetable. Kale contains good amounts of fiber and calcium (no, dairy is not the only food group that provides a good amount of calcium). Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids found in kale, and these help protect your eyes from UV rays. Do you really need more evidence to start eating this wonderful food?
Since fruit has been hammered into everyone’s brain as beneficial, I won’t elaborate as much on it here. I will actually deconstruct this claim, since vegetables are actually more beneficial as they are much lower in sugar.
The fruits I recommend are dark berries. These include blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. The reasons for this are numerous. Fruit has varying amounts of glucose and fructose, both sugars, but both processed very differently in your body. For the reasoning behind fructose being a toxin, watch Dr. Robert Lustig’s excellent lecture on YouTube.
You want to avoid any fruits high in fructose, especially on a daily basis. Not only are dark berries comparatively low in fructose, but they are also high in free-radical-neutralizing antioxidants.
Take blueberries, for example, which have anthocyanin antioxidants. These antioxidants give foods blue, purple and red colors. Anthocyanin compounds include malvidins, delphinidins, pelargonidins, cyanidins, and peonidins. Here we actually see a big difference in terms of antioxidant amounts, when comparing organic versus non-organic.
Always go with the organic berries if you can. Besides the anthocyanin antioxidants, blueberries contain: caffeic acids, ferulic acids, coumaric acids, hydroxybenzoic acids, gallic acids, procatchuic acids, kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin and other phytonutrients. None of these are found in significant amounts in a slice of pizza.
Maximize Cellular Health
If you want to maximize cellular health, I would keep carbohydrate intake to vegetables and tiny amounts of fruit. However, if you need more glucose in your diet, you can intake some starchy tubers, such as yucca root, sweet potatoes and yams. Because these are less nutrient dense than fruits and vegetables, do not go overboard on starchy tubers.
This brings us to the macronutrient of protein. The only foods I recommend for protein are eggs (pastured), fish (wild caught) and meat (grass fed). The reasons for this are myriad. These foods are free of hormones, pesticides and other harmful compounds. They are all complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Specifically, eggs are a great source of choline, which is a precursor to acetylcholine. Eggs also contain a notable amount of iodine, a trace mineral essential to life.
Wild caught fish contain omega 3, which is key to reducing inflammation. When deciding what omega 3 fatty acids are most beneficial, we look to the long-chain versions. Specifically, docosahexaenoic acid. Its ability to retro convert to eicosapentaenoic acid makes it the most essential form of omega 3.
What about mercury? The mercury content of fish is actually a non-factor, as selenium binds to mercury and blocks it from being processed by the body. Grass fed meat contains vitamin B12, a good amount of zinc, potassium, phosphorous and vitamin E.
One of the most widely talked about benefits to grass fed beef is its amount of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. CLA has been proven to lower insulin resistance, improve body composition, and to reduce tumors.
Next on our brain-friendly macronutrient list: fat. Fat has been demonized because of the work of Ancel Keys, but fat is essential to life and the right kinds are actually some of the best compounds in existence. Coconut oil, olive oil and ghee are three of the best options out there.
Take coconut oil, for example. The lauric acid found in coconut oil becomes monolaurin in the body, which is a compound that is do not require bile acids to become active in the body. In essence, they become immediately used for energy, not stored as fat; unlike fructose.
In small amounts, there are some extremely beneficial nuts. Walnuts contain a unique form of vitamin E. This unique form is called gamma-tocopherol.
This is in contrast to the ‘normally found in food’ form, alpha-tocopherol. Gamma-tocopherol provides unique cardiovascular disease protection, in addition to being a potent antioxidant. Three Brazil nuts contain more than your daily requirement for the trace mineral selenium, which is essential to master antioxidant, glutathione, functioning.
Again, limit your nut intake. They are extremely high in inflammatory fatty acid, omega 6. Macadamia nuts, however, are not as inflammatory, and may be consumed more often.
Perhaps more important than what to consume is what NOT to consume. Meaning, foods that throw your body out of whack, whether it’s biochemically, neurologically, inflammatory-wise, or become addictive. The foods on this list should come as no surprise to any health-conscious person.
Don’t consume foods or beverages that kill brain cells, promote disease, or dysregulate blood sugar. This means do not consume: alcohol, artificial sweeteners or other excitotoxins, large amounts of carbohydrates, fructose, fast food, soda, et al.
This also includes wheat, since gliadin-derived proteins bind to CXCR3 receptors and cause zonulin release, which increases intestinal permeability.
Do you have questions on which foods to consume? Do you want to improve your brain power? Let us know in the comments.