Neal D. Barnard is an American physician, author, clinical researcher, and founding president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM.org), an international network of physicians, scientists, and laypeople who promote preventive medicine, conduct clinical research, and higher standards in research.
Michael Tobias: Dr. Barnard, in your soon-to-be-published new book, Power Foods for The Brain (due out February 19 –- Grand Central) you impart some very new insights and synthesis of biochemical data from research around the world pertaining to the impact of food on the mind. People, and government agencies, have long acknowledged the role of diet with respect to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. You take the correlations much deeper: into the secrets of the brain itself.
Neal Barnard: The fact is, we can look into the brain in ways we were not able to before, and what we’ve learned is both hopeful and disconcerting at the same time. The disconcerting part is that threats to the brain are all around us, which is why Alzheimer’s disease hits half of us by age 85. We can see the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who, on the surface, seem fine. The hopeful side comes from careful studies of large populations showing that a particular pattern of dietary habits appears to protect the brain to a very substantial degree.
DIET ADVICE FOR PROTECTING YOUR BRAIN:
1. Make a power plate at every meal. One quarter the plate should be filled with fruits, one quarter with grains, one quarter with legumes, and one quarter with vegetables.
2. Do colorful combinations of foods. Combining sweet potatoes with kale or oranges with apples will ensure that you get a variety of vitamins and other plant chemicals that work synergistically to promote good brain health. If some of the vegetables are too bitter for your taste, the book recommends spritzing them with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to bring in some sour notes. I also loved the fresh mint they added to the fruit kabobs.
3. Get creative with legumes. Vegans use these are their main source of protein, so think hummus, tofu, tempeh, as well as beans, lentils and peas.
4. Learn to prepare foods without oil. The book recommends dry sauteeing vegetables. I’m assuming over low heat, so they won’t burn. You can also cook vegetables and grains in vegetable broth for added flavor or—if you must—spray on a little olive oil from a diffuser.
5. Don’t forget the nuts and seeds. Sprinkle nuts and seeds on your salads, grains, and morning oatmeal to get omega-3 fats and vitamin E, both beneficial for the brain.
6. Skip all supplements, except one containing a B-12. Vegetarians often lack B12—essential for proper brain function—in their diets since it’s found mainly in animal products like beef, turkey, and pork. so the book recommends taking a daily supplement.