It’s time to spring into spring — and eat healthy

Published Apr 29, 2018 at 9:00am

Make a few simple changes in your lifestyle and in your eating habits to help “spring” come sooner and better than ever.

Is It food that will keep us young or is it exercise that puts “spring” into us? Or is it motivation to stay active by eating foods, good for our brain? Or will getting off the couch and increasing our activity daily improve our “spring” lifestyle? Give yourself a lifestyle change this spring and feel better physically and mentally. 

Recent research in the University of California, Berkley Wellness Letter states that exercise helps by stimulating brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

Strenuous aerobic exercise also stimulates the release of “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins. It may also provide a sense of control and accomplishment, serve as a distraction from anxieties, and possibly lead to increased social contacts. 

Any increase in activity can be beneficial. Try parking your car farther from the store so that you walk more.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Consider working in your garden or swimming at your local gym. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity most days – even if you have to split the time into three 10-minute sessions.  

Foods can improve mood in some people, but can diet really affect depression or our winter blues?

On the positive side, chocolate does seem to have a beneficial effect on mood, especially for women – but don’t overdo the chocolate and its calories.

Caffeine also improves mood in some people. Some evidence suggests that tryptophan in the diet – from foods such as turkey or oatmeal – may increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Diets high in junk foods are associated with depression as well. When people are depressed, they often spend more time sitting in front of the TV and eating fatty, salty, sugary foods, instead of getting out to exercise and improving their diet. 

A diet group received on-going personalized nutrition counseling on how to follow the Mediterranean type diet. Participants were encouraged to eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods, nuts, fish, lean meats, and olive oil; reduce refined grains, fried or fast foods, processed meats, and sugary drinks; and consume moderate alcohol.  

Loss of cognitive function often is believed to be a natural consequence of aging, a time during which the brain no longer performs as sharply as it once did in younger years. The Framingham Heart Study has research proving that the healthy dietary and lifestyle choices starting at a young age and continuing throughout the lifespan can greatly increase the life expectancy of the heart and that of the individual living longer. 

Compounds showing the most promise in promoting brain health are antioxidants, phytochemicals, and the B vitamins found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. The studies show that these four compounds may promote cognitive function in senior patients. 

The role of B vitamins is very important. In addition to omega-3s, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, there’s significant research interest in the role B vitamins play in maintaining cognitive health. The B-complex vitamins produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and regulate energy use in the brain, so it’s plausible that inadequate intake could reduce cognition. 

Folate is involved in the energy production in the brain and elsewhere and aids in the production of DNA and RNA – the body’s genetic material. Folate increases nitric oxide, which protects the arterial endothelium. Increased nitric oxide improves vasoconstriction and vasodilation, or the narrowing and widening of blood vessels that control blood flow.

Protecting the endothelium from oxidative damage is a piece of the heart disease and stroke prevention puzzle. In a study, about 1,000 seniors in the highest quartile of folate consumption had the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease.

Excellent sources of folate include spinach and other dark leafy greens, asparagus, black-eyed peas, lentils, and pinto, garbanzo, and black beans. The folate recommendation for adults is 400 mcg per day. Mother is right – “eat your vegetables.” 

Vitamin B 12 plays a role in helping to maintain cognition also. Low vitamin B 12 is a concern for those eating a vegan diet, since B12 is found only in animal products or fortified foods.

Organ meats and sardines are a concentrated source of B12, though all animal foods and fortified nondairy milks are additional sources. 

Keep in mind that soups and stews are also great ways to use vegetables that are nearing the end of their shelf life. Lentils also are ideal because they don’t require soaking and can be cooked until they’re soft. Many vegetables can be lightly sautéed, blended, and added to sauces, such as marinara.

Berries are popular and readily available like, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are beneficial for brain health whether they are fresh, frozen or canned. Choosing to use more vegetables and beans and berries in ways such as these can really help improve levels of folate and vitamin B12. We should always prioritize food over supplements. 

This spring try a side dish of asparagus to get a nutrient rich vegetable benefiting your brain and cognitive function.

Wash then cut off the white bottom stem of the asparagus

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

Place asparagus on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil or an oil of your choice for flavor 

Sprinkle salt, pepper, and your favorite cheese to taste (optional)

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tender depending on thickness 

Enjoy and have a Happy Spring.