Nov 27, 2012
Lose Weight for Brain Gain
Two new studies—both published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN, vol. 31, no. 2, 2012)—show how healthy nutrition habits can boost brainpower.
Being overweight is a well-known risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, with people who are overweight experiencing a 74% higher risk for developing dementia later in life compared to people of normal weight (and the dementia risk is much higher if your overweight is also combined with diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure). Previous studies have shown that even modest weight loss is associated with improvements in insulin resistance (“pre-diabetes”) and blood vessel function (vascular reactivity), and those changes in glucose control and blood flow are associated with improved memory, faster problem solving (“executive function”) and a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The first JACN study found that overweight adults who lost about 10% of their initial body weight also had significant improvements in cognitive function (memory, speed of problem solving, mental flexibility, etc). The study participants consumed approximately 1500 calories per day (22% protein, 25% fat, and 53% carbohydrate) and took an average of 4 months to reach their weight loss goal of 10% body weight. These results and the results of several related studies show us the clear relationship between nutrition habits, body weight, and overall brain function—and remind us that healthy diet and exercise habits are good for both the body and mind.
The second JACN study found that kids who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight and less likely to score well on motor coordination tests than kids who eat breakfast on a regular basis—and, the breakfast-skippers were almost 10% fatter. Several previous studies, including a review of 13 studies with almost 60,000 kids and teens, have found a protective effect of breakfast consumption on weight, coordination, and cognitive function.
I’ve written before about the importance of eating breakfast, whether for enhancing weight loss or improving mental function, but it’s important to note that study after study is supporting the fact that breakfast is clearly a “2-fer”—you get 2 amazing health benefits for the price of one easy decision (to eat something before you rush out the door in the morning).
Why don’t people eat breakfast? If you’re like most people, you skip breakfast because you’re either too busy to find 5 minutes in the morning or you’re not hungry (which is a sign of a suppressed metabolism that really needs to be bumped up with breakfast). The only other logical reason for skipping breakfast on a regular basis is that you’ve been doing it for so long that your brain function has suffered and you’re already experiencing the early signs of dementia—so get with the program! (ha ha).
Mornings in the Talbott house are probably a lot like mornings in your house. Nobody wants to get up as early as required to get everyone off to work and school— especially the kids. We use the simple “Helping Hand” approach to eating that I write about in some of my books (and which you can read for free online)—so pulling together a quick and nutritious breakfast is usually a breeze. However, on a lot of mornings, we really don’t have time to cook eggs or whole-grain waffles or even something fast like oatmeal—so we’re big fans of protein smoothies or “MRPs” = meal replacement powders. A cup of milk or soymilk, a scoop of chocolate or vanilla MRP powder, and a handful of frozen berries (for vanilla) or banana plus peanut butter (for chocolate) and you’re done. Lots of mornings, all 4 of us (mom, dad, and 2 kids) are having smoothies for breakfast and reaping the body and brain benefits all day long because we spent a few minutes in the morning.
We use the “RVL” MRP powder from MonaVie because it not only provides a balanced blend of macronutrients (pure proteins, healthy fats, and low-glycemic carbs), but it also delivers perhaps the market-leading “nutrient density” (blend of vitamins/minerals/phytonutrients/flavonoids/carotenoids) for wide-ranging brain and body benefits. If you do just one thing for your health every day, be sure that you make your breakfast that “one perfect meal” of the day.
Thanks for reading,
About the author: Shawn M Talbott is a nutritionist (PhD, Nutritional Biochemistry, Rutgers) and physiologist (MS, Exercise Science, UMass Amherst) who studies how to help people Feel, Look, and Perform Better. He is the author of 10 books and a frequent competitor in Ironman triathlons and ultramarathons—as well as a frequent breakfast eater.