Monthly Archives: May 2016

Food for the Brain

Food for Brain Health

Brain health is big news. There are a number of brain-related conditions on the rise including depression, multiple sclerosis and dementia.

Dementia is one that is becoming of increasing concern to governments worldwide. There are different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common. With Alzheimer’s, the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells.

There is no cure for dementia and the precise causes haven’t been identified. However, we do know that dementia doesn’t manifest overnight. And, did you know that only one in 100 cases of Alzheimer’s is caused by genes?

There are over 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia and worldwide, the number is a massive 44 million. This is set to double by 2030. That is only 14 years away, which means that there is a possibility that the way we are living right now can impact our neurological health just a few years down the road.

Prevention is always better than cure, so this article provides some basic information on how to care for your brain throughout your life. Having a forward-looking approach to everyday health can help you and your family future-proof your well-being for decades to come.


According to the World Alzheimer Report in 2014, smoking, high blood pressure and unmanaged diabetes are some of the key risk factors for developing dementia in later life. In fact, the correlation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s has prompted some researchers to refer to Alzheimer’s as ‘diabetes type 3’.

Certainly managing blood sugar can result in profound improvements in a number of conditions, but I think there is more to Alzheimer’s than just blood sugar control. What is fairly clear, is that what we eat, how we move and how we feel can possibly influence whether dementia will affect us in the future. So, it’s what we do in our younger years that can make a big difference to the quality of our lives as we age.


The following tips provide some pointers on how to eat well now, to ensure that your brain is receiving all the nutrients it needs.

  1.  Get your B’s (B6, B12 and folate).


These three nutrients are critical for ensuring that your body clears an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are bad news in general, but have been closely associated with Alzheimer’s.

Nutrition tip: Eat leafy green vegetables every day: broccoli, spinach, cabbage, kale, chard, watercress and sea vegetables are excellent sources of B6 and folate. B12 is found in animal products, so ensure you include things like eggs, organic chicken, grass fed beef and lamb and some dairy in your diet. Vegans should consider a B12 supplement.

  1. Healthy Fats = Healthy Brain (omega 3 fatty acids).


A number of studies have reported significant benefits of omega 3 fatty acids on cognitive decline. In fact, much of the brain is made of DHA, a type of omega 3. Some studies have found that lower levels of DHA are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Omega 3 also has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is being investigated as a contributing factor in dementia, so a diet rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients can be very important.

Nutrition tip: Focus on eating foods rich in omega 3. The best sources are oily fish: herring, mackerel, sardines and wild Alaskan salmon (avoid farmed salmon). Milled flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp and walnuts are good vegetable sources of omega 3. Incorporate the vegetable sources of omega 3 into your diet regularly and aim for 2-3 portions of oily fish per week. Young children, women of childbearing age and pregnant women should aim for 1-2 portions.

  1. Reduce Sugar.


Besides predisposing you to diabetes, imbalanced blood sugar can result in inflammation, mood disruption, fatigue and poor immunity. Sugar does not only come from sweet foods – simple carbohydrates can also spike blood glucose levels.

Nutrition tip: Choose foods high in fibre and avoid processed carbohydrates and sugary foods. Easy changes include swapping white bread for wholegrain bread, white potatoes for sweet potatoes and limiting sweets and sugary foods to occasional treats. Eat plenty of vegetables and make sure your snacks contain protein, fat and/or protein. Try swapping your mid-afternoon biscuit with oatcakes and almond butter or hummus.

  1. Look after Your Gut.

Probiotic-rich food - kimchi

New studies are revealing the connection between the gut and the brain. In fact our gut is also called the ‘second brain’. We are coming to understand the critical role that gut health plays in all types of chronic conditions. In particular studies have shown that what is happening in the microbiome can influence inflammation in the brain.

The good news is that we can positively impact our microbiomes by what we eat.

Nutrition tip: Eat foods with plenty of fibre (that’s what the good bacteria need to thrive): whole grains and vegetables are your best sources. Also include foods that already contain beneficial bacteria – these include plain yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and my favourite, kimchi.


Good nutrition is one part of a lifestyle approach to future-proofing your health. These food tips are a good start, but should be part of an integrated approach to wellness that includes stress management, sleep and activity.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them to my Facebook page.



If you would like to read more about dementia, here are some hand-picked resources:

Brain Maker – David Perlmutter

Alzheimer’s Disease International

Alzheimer’s Society









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Hayfever sneeze

5 Nutrition Tips for Hay Fever

Watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose? For some people, the start of summer is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s warmer and gardens are blooming, but… the blooming can trigger the annoying symptoms of hay fever.


Hay fever is a relatively common ailment afflicting many people each spring / summer.

Hay fever is essentially an allergic reaction and is most commonly triggered by grass or tree pollen, but other types of pollen can also be problematic.

The symptoms are a reaction of the immune system to the pollen, resulting in the inflammation of the nasal passages and eyes.

When a person with sensitivity to pollen inhales the allergen, the immune system reacts, producing the antibody IgE. IgE binds to white blood cells called mast cells and basophils, and these cells release histamine resulting in the physical symptoms of the reaction. These include: runny nose; sneezing; itchy watery eyes; fatigue; coughing and sinus congestion.


Yes, what we eat can have a positive impact on how the body reacts to allergens.

From a nutritional therapy perspective, intervention focuses on two key aspects:

  1. Addressing a sensitive immune system. In some respects, this is the root cause of hay fever. Not everyone produces antibodies to pollen, so suffering from hay fever, suggests that your immune system may be ‘overreacting’.
  2. Promoting a diet that is anti-inflammatory. Most symptoms of hay fever are inflammatory in nature. By favouring foods that have anti-inflammatory actions, your body is less predisposed to inflammation, which could calm down the system’s response to any allergens.

Green apples - quercetin


Follow these tips to help strengthen your immune system and reduce your hay fever symptoms:

  1. Eat foods rich in quercetin.

Quercetin is the plant sterol with the most research connected to hay fever. Studies suggest that the body uses quercetin to prevent the release of histamine (i.e. it is a natural anti-histamine). Quercetin has also been shown to reduce the production of inflammatory compounds (prostaglandins and leukotrienes).

Bromelain is another phytonutrient that may be beneficial. You’ll find it in pineapples. It helps the body absorb quercetin and also has anti-inflammatory properties. Because it is helpful in digesting protein, bromelain may help break down mucus, a symptom of hay fever.

Green tea, apples, onions and kale are great sources of quercetin.

  1. Feed your gut with fermented foods.

Most of your immune system is located in the gut, so ensuring that it is in balance is essential. It is important that you have the right balance of gut bacteria for a healthy immune system. A 2014 study indicated that hay fever sufferers given certain strains of beneficial bacteria saw significant improvement in quality of life, in particular a reduction in runny eyes1.

Including fermented foods into your diet is the easiest way to start getting the balance of bacteria right. Sauerkraut, kimchi, whole plain yoghurt*, kefir and kombucha are excellent sources and are becoming more commonly available. Supplements of beneficial bacteria may also be helpful.

  1. Enhance your vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D helps to keep the immune system balanced and also has anti-inflammatory properties.

It is quite difficult to get enough vitamin D through the diet, but oily fish, egg yolks and dried mushrooms are the best food sources. Ideally, get responsible exposure to sunlight when you can or you might want to consider a good supplement.

  1. Eat plenty of omega-3 rich foods.

The EPA and DHA found in omega 3 oils help the natural production of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body.

Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources. Aim for 2-3 portions per week. Flaxseeds/linseeds and chia seeds are also good sources, but you will need to eat them in larger amounts.

  1. Incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet.

Curcumin, the active compound in the spice turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Its plant cousin, ginger, also provides anti-inflammatory actions. As such, they may be helpful in reducing some hay fever symptoms.

Curries are a perfect way to incorporate turmeric and ginger into your diet. You could also try ginger tea or ‘golden’ tea (turmeric, coconut milk, black pepper and honey). TIP: turmeric is MUCH better absorbed if it is taken with a source of fat and black pepper.

Superfood fish cakes


  • Marinate fillets of salmon or mackerel in a mix of soy sauce, local honey, turmeric, ginger and garlic. Cook as you prefer and serve with a large helping of kale.
  • Brew a cup of green tea, add a squeeze of lemon and grate in a little fresh ginger. Make in bulk and refrigerate for a cooling, anti-inflammatory summer drink.
  • Grate fresh green apple onto your breakfast porridge. Add milled flax and chia seeds for extra omega 3.
  • Scramble eggs (add a pinch of turmeric), and serve with sautéed kale and onion and a side helping of smoked salmon.
  • Salmon and Sweet Potato fishcakes. Made with ginger, add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric for an extra boost.


*Some people may find that dairy increases mucus production.

1D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet, “Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607


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