Living Well New Year Tips

Dr Neal Barnard says the secret to a long healthy life all comes back to the food you feed your body and brain.

Neal Bernard's Power Foods

What are people most shocked about when they read your book?

Most people are surprised to learn that what we eat can wreak havoc on your brain. We now know that smoking correlates directly to lung cancer. We understand that a meat-heavy diet can increase cholesterol and put us at risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. What many people don’t know is that saturated and trans fats, the kind you’ll find in cream-filled doughnuts and pepperoni pizza, can more than triple your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. When combined with toxic metals—from cookware, drinking water, or medications—trans fats can raise your risk for dementia fivefold.

The good news is healthful foods have the opposite effect. Studies from the University of Cincinnati find blueberries and grapes strengthen memory. Sweet potatoes are the dietary staple of Okinawans, the longest-lived people on Earth who are also known for maintaining mental clarity into old age. Leafy greens, including spinach, kale, and broccoli and colorful fruits, such as bananas, mangoes, and berries, do much more than boost your immune system. Studies continue to show plant-based foods and a healthful lifestyle can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 70 or 80 percent.
What is the greatest myth around the brain?

People often believe genes act as destiny. It’s common to assume if your parents or grandparents have Alzheimer’s, you will end up in the same predicament, too. And some genes really are “dictators” — the genes for eye color, for example. If your genes say you’ll have blue eyes, you can’t argue. But the genes for Alzheimer’s disease act more like “committees” than “dictators.” They don’t give orders; they just make suggestions, and you can fight back. In the same way that what we put in our body greatly influences our risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the same is true for memory loss.

When we put food to work like medicine, all the side effects are good. Eating a healthful plant-based diet, exercising a few times each week, keeping your brain active, maintaining social relationships, and avoiding exposure to toxic metals is your best bet for optimum brain health.

People don't often think of brain health daily - How important is brain health to a great life?

The brain is our most precious organ. In order to live a long healthful life and keep memories intact, we need to take care of it. The earlier in life we start, the better we’ll fare in the long run.