Celebrate the Brain

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

fondue-709713_640Thanksgiving and the many holidays that follow are joyful times to be with family and friends.  Holiday cheer, a positive emotion, can also provide the brain with healthful hormones and neurochemicals that improve brain function.

Family traditions boost enjoyment of holiday gatherings.  In a recent series of studies in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, subjects described the customs they followed — along with those of their families — during holidays.  These activities were rated as enjoyable, personal experiences that enhanced bondings with family members.  In fact, simply recalling past traditions can put a warm glow on holiday gatherings and support creative thinking.

Memories of childhood or lost loved ones often surface at celebrations.  The bittersweet feeling of nostalgia can elevate mood and mental outlook.  A recent study published in the journal, Emotion, reported that nostalgia boosts a sense of connection to the past, creating a social web that extends across people and time.  This “self-continuity” energizes the brain.  So, pull out an old photo album and spend some time revisiting your past this season.

When listing New Year’s resolutions, resolve to keep friendships alive throughout the year.  The benefits of supportive relationships are numerous.  Research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (2016), stated that individuals who have greater levels of social support enjoy better psychological health and mental functioning.  The reduction of chronic stress and the stimulation associated with meaningful social interaction are strongly linked to improved resilience and reduced risk of anxiety and depression.  There is also a lower likelihood of cognitive decline.

The highlight of any holiday is food, often deeply entwined with tradition, but possibly devoid of brain-healthy choices.  Compromises that allow both brain-healthy and traditionally-happy fare, including desserts, can solve this dilemma.  First, shift the spotlight from rich food to lighter fare by serving salad as the first course.  Go heavy on the greens, colored veggies, and crunchy bits of apples or pears.  Second, make a healthy vegetable side dish the co-star of the main course.  Third, regarding the turkey, think outside the bread box with offerings such as wild-rice stuffing, augmented with vegetables and dried cranberries.  Lastly, the first bite of dessert, thoughtfully consumed, always gets rated as the best.

Enjoy the fabulous taste of that bite!  Then, empower your mind with oxygen — by taking a mindful walk — to complete the celebration of your brain.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

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Belly Fat and Movement

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Nutrition, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Laura Pawlak, PhD, RD emeritus

Today, unlike any time in U.S. history, body fat is accumulating pointedly in the belly.  In addition to calorie restriction, what practice is required to decrease belly fat?  Move about.

Losing the unwanted pounds gained during the holidays is a struggle for everyone. Keeping it off is even more difficult.  What’s the best way to maintain a lower weight, once achieved?  Move about.

Scientist study the brain, searching for ways to keep it vital over the extra decades we now live. What is considered the most important lifestyle factor to retain cognition throughout life?  Move about.

More Americans are diagnosed with depression and anxiety than anywhere else in the world.  What habit can aid in balancing mood?  Move about.

Researchers agree that the most important natural way to bring about good health is movement.  During activity, muscles release anti-inflammatory proteins that act as a natural protection against disease.  In spite of the proof that moving is as vital as sleep, food, or water, less than 25 percent of the nation exercises.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the mistaken vision of exercise as fitness training, often too tough for most mortals. Boutique gyms continue to augment the difficulty of their programs to retain the hardiest of their hard-core members.  While a few exercisers may enjoy the endorphin “high” produced by the physical demand of these classes, the average member is soon discouraged and disappears in about three months.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the typical worksite, where the employee exercise program might be limited to moving one’s fingers on a computer all day. Scientific evidence clearly shows that sitting for long periods of time heightens the risk of dementia, diabetes, depression, and, of course, obesity.

Now imagine that your workplace offers a program that can lift your mood and combat lethargy without reducing focus or attention — and even dull hunger and cravings.  What’s the strategy?  Stand up and walk for five minutes every hour during the workday.  Whether you are hired, fired, or retired, this movement schedule is a healthy approach to limiting sedentary behavior every day.

Does a simple sit/walk program eliminate the need for strength training, stretching, and near-daily moderate exercise?  No, but it’s wise to begin an active lifestyle with the easiest step.  Devote five minutes of every sedentary hour to walking.

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Cuisine for the Brain

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

carrot-1085063_640By Laura Pawlak, PhD, RD emeritus

What weighs a mere four pounds and has a workload that demands 20 percent of all the oxygen inhaled?  Answer:  the human brain.

As technology opens the door to the unique metabolic functions of the brain, scientists are investigating the nutrients required to keep mentally sharp over the decades.

With dementia rising at an alarming rate — along with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments — let’s eat with purpose, using sound, nutrition-related science applicable to the brain and the rest of the body.

Starting with the belief that what we eat plays a significant role in determining who gets dementia, Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D. and colleagues developed the MIND Diet as an intervention against the most common cause of neurodegeneration:  Alzheimer’s disease.

The work of Morris and her colleagues is based on research completed at Rush Medical University in Chicago, Illinois.  The term “MIND” is an acronym for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

The DASH diet plan is based on research sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  The plan was developed to lower blood pressure without the use of medication.

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are models of healthy eating for the body.  The Morris team chose foods that improve brain function significantly and also added to overall body wellness.

Adherence to the MIND diet may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%, offering more protection for the brain than any other dietary regimen.

The MIND cuisine lists 10 brain-healthy food groups (green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine).  The plan limits consumption of five brain-unhealthy food groups (red meats, butter/stick margarine, cheese, pastries/sweets, and fried or fast food).

The plan suggests a minimum of three servings of whole grains, a salad, and one other vegetable every day — along with a glass of wine.  For snacks, add a variety of nuts.  Berries are the only fruits recommended.

Specifically, blueberries are noted as the powerful protectors of the brain.  Strawberries are a second choice for good cognitive function.

Use Google and enter the term “MIND Diet” for daily guidelines and recipes of a cuisine designed to maximize brain function while providing healthy foods for the rest of the body as well.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.


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