In September 2019 the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded at the renowned Harvard University. Contrary to the well-known Nobel Prize, the Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded annually to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” As a psychologist in the New Brain Nutrition team, I am interested in the effects that diet can have both on your physical, but especially on your mental health. So one of the award winners especially caught my attention: Silvano Gallus from the Mario Negri Institute in Milano, Italy, was awarded the satiric prize for his research showing that pizza might protect against illness and death – if the pizza is produced and eaten in Italy. In several case-control studies, he investigated the role of pizza consumption with regard to the likelihood of being diagnosed with various kinds of cancer (1). By comparing the amount of pizza consumption in more than 3000 cancer patients and in close to 5000 patients admitted to hospital for other reasons, he found out that the likelihood of developing cancer was markedly reduced if pizza was consumed regularly. The largest effect was found for oesophageal cancer where the so-called odds-ratio was 0.41. An odds-ratio describes the relative risk in comparison to another group, whose risk is set to 1. This means that if you are a pizza lover, chances to develop this kind of cancer are less than half in comparison to people who never eat pizza.

On the other hand, Gallus also stresses that in the US, an effect in the opposite direction has been reported, so that – in this case, regarding prostate cancer – the risk of developing cancer rose with the amount of pizza consumed. So this might be an effect specifically for Italy.

One possible explanation might be that in Italy, as well as in several surrounding countries, a Mediterranean diet is frequently followed. Gallus and colleagues state in their publication that it might be the tomato sauce, olive oil and fresh toppings that account for this effect, and not the whole pizza. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh, colorful vegetables, fish, olive oil, and whole-grain flour products, and it has been shown to prevent many chronic diseases. A standard pizza produced and consumed in the US might not meet the criteria for a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet. We at New Brain Nutrition are also investigating the role of the Mediterranean diet on psychological well-being and mental illness.

If you want to find out more about the Mediterranean diet and its effects on mental health, check out our other blogs, watch our cooking videos with Sebastian Lege or download our tip sheet with helpful tips on how to make your diet more Mediterranean.

REFERENCES:

(1) Gallus, S., Bosetti, C., Negri, E., Talamini, R., Montella, M., Conti, E., Franceschi, S. and la Vecchia, C. (2003) DOES PIZZA PROTECT AGAINST CANCER?, Int. J. Cancer: 107, 283–284

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Interview with Annett Oehlschläger, author of the book “You can eat stability?!“

After listening to a talk given by Miss Oehlschläger at a conference on bipolar disorder in 2019, and learning how she, as an affected person herself, manages her disorder, I decided to conduct this interview with her to stress the importance of a solid knowledge about one’s disorder, but also about body processes and nutrition. This interview had been conducted in German and translated to English.

Miss Oehlschläger, after living with the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder for many years, you wrote a book named “Stabilität kann man essen?!“ (“You can eat stability?!“) What made you write this book?

Simply speaking: There hasn’t been a book yet which investigated what effect nutrition, exercise, biological rhythm, sleep, and light have on mood and energy fluctuations. During my literature research I was surprised at first that there were so many connections, and I grew angry because I had never heard about this during my psychiatric treatment. It was my wish that other affected people learn about these connections. This was the reason to write this book.

Who is the book written for and what could be reasons to read it?

So first and foremost, it is written for those who are affected by a bipolar disorder, that’s why it is called “Steps for Self-Management”. But it could also be worth reading for people who don’t get along with psychotropic drugs and for people with other psychiatric disorders than those of the bipolar spectrum.

What does “bipolar pilot” exactly mean?

When I created my website, I was looking for a catchy term and while doing this I actually found the term “pilot.” Even though it has nothing to do with the disorder at all at first sight, it is very suitable. A pilot is someone who is helping a non-local to find the right way and that is how I understand my offer. Everybody has to take the journey on his or her own, I can only accompany a part of it. I make an offer and show how to live self-determined and as autonomously as possible with the disorder. With me as an example, I show how to become an expert of my own disorder. I am there for upcoming questions and I offer my experience and my advice.

Would you say that the book is also worth reading for people without a bipolar disorder or for relatives of people with a bipolar disorder or for people with another mental or psychiatric disorder?

Yes, I’d say so. I have been told several times that my explanations are focused on bipolar disorder, but that many connections are shown that basically affect everyone. Everybody has to eat and everybody wants to stay healthy. The things I’m describing don´t only have to do with the bipolar disorder, but also with how to keep the body healthy, and how close body and mind are connected.

In your experience, how do nutrition and psyche relate to each other?

It has always bothered me that the psyche and the body were perceived as something independent and separate from each other. All materials that our body needs, except oxygen, come into our body via food and drinks, and then the body builds it‘s substances from it and produces the necessary energy. Conversely, what I do not ingest and what the body cannot produce itself, or what it cannot process, cannot be built into the cells. My conviction is that the way people eat plays an important role in all chronic diseases, including bipolar disorder. For people with mental disorders the following relation is important: Emotions and thoughts don’t just materialize out of nowhere. They are built in the brain using amino acids and are controlled by messenger substances. This is quite a complex procedure, but it just doesn’t work right without the necessary raw material. Everybody might have already experienced the feeling of well-being after having eaten something sweet, like chocolate. Here, the connection is obvious. To rephrase a saying by Feuerbach: You are not only what you eat, you also feel according to what you have eaten.

Why is the realization that psyche and nutrition are so strongly connected not widespread and an integral part of every therapy or medical consultation?

I often asked myself the same question while I was reading the books. I asked two doctors who helped me with the diet change. One of them is an internist and environmental physician from Rostock, Germany, and he told me that medical students do not learn this. The focus is rather on the treatment of symptoms, mainly using medication. And I have experienced nothing different in psychiatry, symptoms are treated with medication. The vast potential of biochemistry and orthomolecular medicine remains unused. I find this quite regrettable. Additionally, there are guidelines that are set up by professional societies, and each doctor has to treat according to these guidelines. And then, there is also the healthcare system which is growing more and more specialized. This brings certain advantages, no doubt. But especially when it comes to the psyche, in my opinion, you need a holistic approach to sustainably help an affected person.

In your experience, what do exercise and sleep have to do with the psyche in addition to diet?

This has something to do with a human beings’ system, which has evolved over thousands of years. We are adapted to our environment and living conditions that have evolved only very slowly over the thousands of years. The so-called modern progress over the last 200 years brought so many fundamental changes in our living conditions we are not adapted to – yet. Sensitive people react with disturbances in their system. Bipolar disorder is one of them. A basic element of our living condition was regular exercise. The human being is made for walking and not for sitting. The saying “sitting is the new smoking” states that a lack of exercise is similarly unhealthy as smoking is. When we walk, we release endorphins. These are happiness hormones and pain killers, which made it possible for mankind to run long distances. If you move, you brighten up. I find this a very easy way to lift your mood, you just have to get up and do it.

Further, chronobiology has found out that it is important for our well-being to stick to biological rhythms. If you act against these rhythms you risk affecting your health, i.e., sleeping disorders. This is a common symptom of bipolar disorder and other mental conditions. The sleep-wake-cycle is an important pacemaker, such as sunlight. It is not irrelevant when you eat or sleep when you work or regenerate. Regularity stabilizes. Mental stability can be achieved by living according to these rhythms. I do live according to these principles.

And if we are going to be more practically now, what would you say, which food should one eat?

Of course, all of the food I need for a good mood. These foods have to provide all the 47 substances that each body necessarily needs in order to stay healthy: 10 amino acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, 13 vitamins and 22 minerals and trace elements.

However, we don’t eat single substances but complex food. So by selecting my food, this is what I do: If I am aware that drive and mood are dependent on amino acids, then the logical conclusion is that I eat food that contains these. Proteins are built from amino acids. Enhancing your protein intake doesn’t necessarily mean eating more meat. Fish, eggs, and legumes contain protein as well.

Further, many processes in my body require enzymes, co-enzymes and co-factors: This is where vitamins, minerals and trace elements come into play. They are needed so that the substances eaten can be absorbed by the body, and also by the brain. If I know that, then I am aware that I have to eat food that provides these substances – these are mainly vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit.

Going shopping at the supermarket, I often get the impression that these foods only account for a small proportion of the vast offer. More dominant are sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, packed and conserved foods, bread, bakery products, and candy. We are constantly exposed to these temptations. If you want to eat according to what your brain needs, you can stick to these easy advices:

Don’t consume sweetened beverages, which also include fruit juice and smoothies, because they contain large amounts of sugars. These simple sugars are mood killers.

Don’t buy processed food. You will recognize processed food mainly because it is packaged and contains a lot of food additives. If there are many different ingredients on the list, chances are quite high that there are additives in it that nobody really needs. Their true serving is to make the product either more tasty – using salt, sugar, flavor enhancers, emulsifiers, and the like, or to enhance shelf life by preservative agents or antioxidants, or to make the product more appealing by adding colorants.

The issue with these unnecessary additives is that they harm the gut – in some people more, in some people less. This can lead to a reduced ability to absorb the substances needed, on the one hand, and on the other hand it can happen that the gut gets leaky and unwanted substances can enter the body. This can also lead to sickness. Both affects drive and mood.

Simply speaking, for a good mood and drive I need foods that are as natural as possible, regionally produced, seasonally, and preferably organic. A large part of my nutrition comes from these foods. If I stick to these principles, I take care of a good basis for mental stability.

And what about fat?

Fat is an essential substance, too. We could not survive without fat. If you consider that 60% of our brain’s dry matter is composed of fat, that each cell in our body is coated by a double lipid layer, then one can hardly comprehend this fat phobia which has been going on for many years.

However, there is fat that is beneficial for mood and drive, and there is fat that is unfavorable for the psyche. For thinking, we need a properly functioning of signal conduction in the brain. Our feelings are influenced by our thoughts and the other way round, both are a product of our brain. Both affect our behavior – all of which are very complex processes of the brain.

The cells build those fats into their cell walls that the person ingests. For the membranes to be fluid enough they need a certain composition of fatty acids. Here, the synergy between vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play a crucial role. Vitamin D is needed when neurotransmitters are built, and EPA makes sure that the cell membrane is fluid enough so that the neurotransmitter can be spilled into the synaptic cleft. DHA takes care that the receptor at the post synapse can pick up the signal to be transmitted. This is why I take specific care to take up at least 2 grams of fish oil every day.

Would you say that nutrition ultimately plays a greater role than psychotropic drugs in improving the disease?

From my point of view, in an acute crisis, psychotropic drugs are a blessing. I am convinced that I would not be alive anymore today if I hadn’t received medication.

But what’s bugging me is constant medication. I, too, have been told that I have to take psychotropic medication all my life. I have a different point of view today. To stay stable permanently, I only need medication as long until my body is strong enough to stabilize my psyche.

This is a long-lasting, exhausting, and also pricy process. Not everybody manages that. This is why it might be that somebody still needs to take psychotropic medication.

A diet that provides all the substances my body needs adds considerately to strengthen the overall health and also the immune system. That way, one improves one’s overall quality of life, not only the mental stability. In this sense, nutrition plays a bigger role.

Can an improvement of the disorder solely occur through nutrition?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental disorder with many causes. Stress plays a pivotal role, my reaction towards it just as well, just as my core beliefs. A sole change in diet can’t change anything about that, it takes psychotherapy and psychoeducation. However, I can influence my vulnerability towards stressors through my diet. For example, a certain level of magnesium is important for being able to relax and to stand above things. Magnesium is also called “salt of inner peace”, and for a reason.

Further, the effect of my diet on my mood is influenced by the origin of my food, and what it contains or doesn’t contain anymore. Take selenium for example. This is very important for the thyroid gland and, by the way, enhances your mood. Through the last ice age, it has been washed out of the ground here in Germany. So if I eat local products, they contain less selenium than food from the US, for example.

If I measure my blood composition and see that I lack a certain substance that I can’t properly ingest via my food, I go for food supplements. I don’t manage to get all the nutrients I need through the food I eat.

But an improvement of the mental disorder depends on many more factors. Nutrition is the most important part, in my opinion, because only through nutrition I get the raw material for the production of neurotransmitters. No drug can achieve that.

To clarify which components are important for a good mood and drive, I like to use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle, just as in my book. Only when all the pieces are in place, I get a coherent image – that of mental stability. Which pieces I need are quite specific. But it’s worth it to find that out. My puzzle pieces were psychotropic drugs, psychotherapy and psychoeducation at first. Today I don’t need these components anymore. But other factors play a role now: nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, self-care, and a meaningful occupation. And also, regular measurements of blood levels to identify imbalances or low levels of substances at an early stage and being able to react promptly. These are my puzzle pieces for stability, so it’s not nutrition alone.

You have already mentioned the keyword “dietary supplements.” Which dietary supplements should one take, or should you take any at all?

Sometimes I get the impression that when it comes to the topic of food supplements, it is often about opinions and factoids rather than scientific facts. Often it is stated that supplements are unnecessary if you eat healthily because then you get everything you need. Or that supplements have a beneficial effect only for the producers. I have believed such statements for a long time before I started having my blood levels measured. My level of vitamin D had been so low I basically didn’t have any of it in my blood. The level of magnesium had been below the reference value, B vitamins had been at the lower level, not to talk about zinc and selenium, and the overall level of protein had been way too low. And at that stage I had been eating healthily, or I had assumed that my nutrition is healthy and contains everything I need. So there had to be something wrong here, or what was the reason for these results?

Today I know that certain essential substances are not available in our food in adequate amounts – or not anymore. Take selenium for example. It is even more dramatically regarding vitamin D. This can be built by the skin, so technically it is not really a vitamin. Experts, such as Prof. Holick from the US, call it a prohormone, because it is associated with more than a thousand of metabolic processes, and more than 2000 of our 23000 genes depend on vitamin D directly or indirectly. Because of the degree of latitude we live in regarding Germany, between October and April the sun is so low we can’t build vitamin D at all. The angle of the sunbeams is below 45 degrees, and so the UVB part of the sunlight doesn’t reach our skin. However, vitamin D reservoirs are depleted after 4 months, so even after I have built up enough vitamin D during the summer it won’t help me get through the winter. Vitamin D is very important for the mood. Once you experience what a difference it makes if you refill such a lack of a substance you stop believing those depreciative statements, even if they come from a doctor.

My recovery started with heightening my vitamin D level. It was at 7ng/ml and today I make sure it stays around 60-70ng/ml. Since I don’t build it appropriately through sun exposure or food I take supplements. So I supplement what I don’t get otherwise if I see that I’m lacking it.

On the other hand, it’s no use just to take anything just because somebody told me it’s good for me. Everybody has his or her individual metabolism. If two persons eat the same food, blood levels can differ. So supplements are very helpful if they are taken specifically and for a purpose.

People with mood fluctuations or mental issues should know their level of vitamin D, especially if they take psychotropic drugs because these drugs deplete the body’s vitamin D reservoirs. B vitamins are vital because they enable the building of serotonin, the happiness hormone, from tryptophane. B vitamins act as co-factors here; this is why I recommend eating a handful of nuts every day because they are full of B vitamins.

It also needs omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, zinc, but describing this here would go too far. But I am describing this in my book in detail.

As a last question, which message do you definitely want to transmit to the readers with this interview? Everybody should be worth it him- or herself to stabilize oneself by following a healthy diet. For me, measuring my blood levels is part of it, so really going to the lab to have your status determined and when you add supplements to your diet, to see what happens. And I am convinced that if you fill up such deficiencies, then everyone will experience his or her own miracle, just as I have experienced it. Because nobody believed that one can become psychologically stable by just a change in diet. Even “only” an improvement of the quality of life is an achievement in my opinion. I know enough sufferers who take psychotropic drugs, but still take dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D because they improve their life situation. And that is actually what we want, isn’t it?

Miss Oehlschläger, we that you very much for this interview!

About the author: Annett Oehlschläger has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was 47 years old. She has been solely occupied with this disorder for eight years and has been to psychiatric hospitals 24 times during these years. Through psychotropic medication and many hours of psychotherapy, the bipolar phases got shorter and the dose of medication could be reduced – however, Miss Oehlschläger still didn’t really become mentally stable. She set out to search for alternatives. Through a diet and lifestyle change and by tackling her vitamin and mineral deficiencies she has been managing to become stable for six years now. This made her write a book called „Stabilität kann man essen?!“ (“You can eat stability?!” – available in German) which has been sold more than 3000 times so far.

About the interviewer: Anne Siegl, PhD is a psychologist and neuroscientist at Klinik für Psychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie Universitätsklinikum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She is researching effects of nutrition on psychological well-being.

This interview has been conducted and translated together with Laura Müller, B.Sc. Laura Friederike Müller, B.Sc., is a Student of Psychology at the Fresenius University of applied Sciences in Frankfurt am Main. At the time of the interview she has been doing an internship in the Eat2beNice project group at the Dept. of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Frankfurt, studying the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on mental health.

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Have you ever heard of the Okinawa Islands, located between Japan and Taiwan, which host one of the longest living people in the world? Even compared with the rest of Japan, to which the islands belong, people grow older on Okinawa.

On average, women become 86 years, men 78 years (1). And more than that, people there maintain a good health up until a very high age. So, what exactly is it that the Okinawans do differently? And what can we change in our lives to get the same positive effects for our health?

Research has extracted many factors that might contribute to this striking longevity, such as a constant moderate physical activity, lack of time pressure and the importance of a solid family structure (see also my blog on effective lifestyle changes here: https://newbrainnutrition.com/four-easy-rules-for-healthy-eating-and-lifestyle/).

What might be easier to change in our everyday lives, however, is the composition of the food we eat.

Let’s investigate what makes the Okinawan diet so healthy (2):

Their diet is rich in root vegetables, especially the very healthy sweet potato. (Who would have guessed that a vegetable carrying the term “sweet” could be more beneficial for your health than its common counterpart?). Sweet potatoes have a high content of dietary fibers, anti-oxidant vitamins A, C and E and anti-inflammatory properties.

They eat many legumes, such as soybeans.

An abundance of mostly green and yellow vegetables is eaten regularly.

Okinawans don’t abstain from meat, alcohol or tea. They consume it in moderation, choosing lean meat and products from the sea.

It seems that no food should be strictly avoided, but that it’s more like the phrase: “Eat everything in moderation and not in abundance.”

Different fruit and medicinal plants (like curcumin or bitter melon) further contribute to a healthy and diverse cuisine.

Altogether, their food is high in unrefined carbohydrates (refined carbohydrates occur e.g. in sweets or white bread, unrefined carbohydrates occur e.g. in brown rice or wholemeal bread) and they consume protein in moderate amounts and mostly plant-based (from legumes, vegetables, but also occasionally from fish or meat).

The Okinawan diet is characterized by a healthy fat profile: rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which occur in fatty fish like salmon, but also in seeds, like flaxseeds, and nuts), high in other polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (occurring e.g. in olive oil or avocado, and low in saturated fats (e.g. occuring in butter).

Hence, its composition resembles that of the Mediterranean Diet, which also is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and other age- and lifestyle-related diseases (Download your free report on the current state of research on the Mediterranean diet here: https://newbrainnutrition.com/the-mediterranean-diet-and-depression-free-report-download/).

By changing our diet and adapting it to the Okinawan (or Mediterranean) diet, you could contribute to a long and healthy life.

Now you might ask how this relates to “new brain nutrition”? Well, a healthy diet affects our gut, which is linked closer to our brain than we originally have assumed (learn more here: https://newbrainnutrition.com/the-gut-brain-axis-an-important-key-to-your-health/​).

Hence, diet should have an impact on our brain health just as on our general health. Substances from fermented soy beans (so-called ​natto), for example, are said to have the potential to prevent the formation of plaque in the brain, which is related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Also, anti-inflammatory effects of a high polyunsaturated fatty acid consumption might have an effect on the production of neurotransmitters (essential for the transfer of information between nerve cells), which largely takes place in the gut.

Interestingly, due to a more western-style cuisine, the younger Okinawans are starting to face the same diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc, just as people from the rest of the world.

Diet matters. So: What changes in your diet do ​you​ want to start with?

Take the first step and try a typical Okinawa dish: Goya Champuru

1 Goya cucumber (may also be frozen)

1 block tofu, dried and as firm as possible approx. 80-100g

Shabu-Shabu meat (thinly sliced pork); cut meat into bite-sized pieces

1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

1-2 tablespoons rice wine (sake)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons neutral oil (must be suitable for frying!)

2 eggs

For vegetarians: Follow the same recipe, but replace Shabu-Shabu with chopped vegetables like carrots, onions, cabbage and bean sprouts or pumpkin.

Wash the Goya cucumber, cut it in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Slice thinly, salt it, let it rest for a few minutes. Wash again, press firmly to remove as much water as possible.

Stir-fry the Shabu-Shabu in a tablespoon of oil, salt it afterward.

Add tofu and stir-fry it until it turns slightly dark. Put tofu and Shabu-Shabu aside.

In the same pan, heat another tablespoon of oil and stir-fry the Goya cucumber in high temperature.

Add the meat and tofu, then soy sauce and sake, stir.

Scramble two eggs and add them.

Stir and don’t let the food turn too dry.

Serve the Champuru with rice.

REFERENCES
(1) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Präfektur_Okinawa

(2) Willcox DC; Scapagnini G; Willcox BJ. Healthy aging diets other than the Mediterranean: a focus on the Okinawan diet.Mech Ageing Dev. 2014; 136-137:148-62 (ISSN: 1872-6216); found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047637414000037

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The more diverse we eat, the more diverse our gut microbiome (i.e., the composition of trillions of microbes in our intestine) will become. Sounds reasonable, right? But – why is that a good thing?

Well, research has shown that a diverse gut microbiome is less susceptible to diseases, such as the well-known western lifestyle associated diseases like diabetes or Crohn’s disease (1). This might be because one’s microbiome and one’s immune system are closely linked. A healthy and diverse microbiome thus might support proper functioning of our immune system and help keeping us healthy.

Eating a variety of different food items also enhances the odds that your body gets all the nutrients like vitamins or minerals it needs for proper functioning. This can have an effect on our well-being as well as on our physical appearance, like shiny hair, strong fingernails and healthy-looking skin.

Besides, research suggests that the more diverse we eat, the better our cognitive abilities might be at older age (see my blog on this topic here:
http://newbrainnutrition.com/four-easy-rules-for-healthy-eating-and-lifestyle/)! Well, how about that!? Research supports the notion that our gut and our brain are more closely linked than we would have assumed. This would mean that our food choices can actually have an effect on our mental health. Great, right?

So let’s have a look at a few simple tips with which you can easily enhance your dietary diversity, and can have fun along the way, too!

1. Add seeds and nuts to your meals
2. Eat a set menu
3. Grow your own fresh herbs
4. Enlarge the variety of what you drink
5. Try alternatives to your staple foods
6. Try new dishes, restaurants and cuisines
7. Join a food cooperative
8. Distribute your homemade meals across different days
9. Experiment with seasonings
10. Try smoothies and soups
11. Share your meals
And the golden rule you should keep in mind:
12. Avoid antibiotics

Add seeds and nuts to your meals
By keeping a variety of seeds and nuts at home, you can easily add them to your meals. If you tend to overeat on nuts (and believe me, many people do), make sure to buy unsalted ones, and simply sprinkle them on top of your muesli, salad or sandwich. Nuts (like peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts) and seeds (like sesame or flaxseed) are a great source of very healthy fats, important vitamins like B-vitamins and vitamin E, and they contain fibres, which our gut simply loves!

Eat a set menu
Yes, you heard me. This is my advice to select a sequence of dishes, instead of only one.
This will definitely result in a larger variety of what you eat. Of course, you should be aware of the overall amount of food – listen to your gut feeling! And I’m serious, this also includes dessert! If you have a little soup, a colorful salad, a light main course and a small treat, you’ve supplied your body with a variety of different nutrients it needs to stay healthy. My extra tip: Keep in mind to include your ‘five a day’ to make sure you eat enough fruit and especially enough vegetables.

Grow your own fresh herbs
Do you notice that food pictures look more appealing when the food is sprinkled with fresh herbs? It will also appeal to your gut! Adding one or two fresh herbs to a dish will give it that little extra twist that it deserves. All it takes is a plant pot on your window sill. Some herbs can be harvested throughout the whole year, and for even more diversity, you can experiment with different plants as you go.

Enlarge the variety of what you drink
Tea or coffee? Both, please! When we think of nutritional diversity, let’s not only consider solid food. Imagine having your coffee and a glass of orange juice (or even a multivitamin drink) with your breakfast. How about some green or black tea as the day goes by? Or an apple spritzer? Herbal teas also offer a great range of different ingredients, and can be soothing in the evening. Just keep in mind that if you taste a few different lemonades, you well might enhance your variety of drinks, but you will consume a lot of sugar, too. The world health organization recommends that maximally 10% of your energy should come from sugar (2), which should be considered when ordering a drink.

Try alternatives to your staple foods
Are you a muesli guy? Or more of a bread person? Do you prefer pasta as your everyday dish or is your menu dominated by rice? Most of us tend to eat the same basic food items every day. But even here is the chance to enhance diversity: Instead of rice, try couscous, amaranth or millet. Buy a different type of bread every time you go to the bakery. Muesli offers a great chance of variety, you can add honey, yoghurt, marmalade, berries, spices… Talk to your friends to get more ideas.

Try new dishes, restaurants and cuisines
Every cuisine has its own flavours, specific components, and style. So why not raiding cook books and food blogs for inspiration? If you go out to eat, just be curious and pick the restaurant you always wanted to try, yet ending up at the same place you always went. This doesn’t only increase your daily diversity, but also the one across days, which is especially important: Imagine you create a super diverse menu and then eat it day after day after day… Sounds boring, right? Your gut will share this opinion! My extra tip: Choose restaurants that offer a buffet every now and then. This is specifically handy around lunchtime because you don’t have to wait for your food. Again, take a bit of everything, but be careful not to overload your plate. This gives you the chance to try out what you like when you taste a novel cuisine. And imagine the looks you get when you say “Hey, I’m doing this for my microbiome!”

Join a food cooperative
You know that homemade cooking is great. You are in charge of what goes into the pan, you control the ingredients’ quality. But, of course, it requires planning, shopping, cooking – not to forget cleaning the kitchen. An easy step towards a diverse, regular cooking habit is joining a cooperative or booking home delivery from organic farms nearby. You get a box full of seasonal, fresh, local fruit and veg delivered to your door weekly. If you know where it comes from, you might be more reluctant to throw it out, hence you might actually cook it and eat it! The surprising variety of what a season has to offer will boost your cooking creativity and enhance your nutritional diversity even further.

Some might object now and remark that when they look at the back of their ready-to-eat supermarket meals, is states that there are so many ingredients in one package, that there is no need to enhance nutritional diversity even more. Sure, there is a point there! But keep in mind that these foods are massively processed, thus having lost many of the original ingredients’ benefits like vitamins, etc. Also, if you look closely, you might detect declarations you don’t even know what they mean! Those different additives, like E-numbers, are mostly artificially produced, and there is long-term research missing what they actually do to our bodies – especially in interaction with all the other additives found in processed food. Don’t get me wrong – every now and then I also grab a bag of ready-to-eat food from the counter.
But what I personally do is to subtract the artificial ingredients from my daily diversity calculation (and now you also know that I like math).

Distribute your homemade meals across different days
This is the same approach as eating a set menu. Imagine you make yourself a nice pasta dish for the evening, and prepare a mixed salad for lunch the next day. How about splitting both in half? That way you expand your food across days, yet adding more daily eatables at the same time. Your microbiome will like the variety that goes along with this. Plus, you don’t have to buy canteen food the next day and might save some money – money that could be spent at the fancy restaurant we talked about earlier on!

And yes, distributing food across days also applies to cake and desserts. If you baked a cake (consider adding lots of fruit), have one piece now and one tomorrow! And remember to send your mum a picture of your delicious achievements, she will love it!

Experiment with seasonings
If you go through the seasonings in your kitchen cupboard, you will notice that some seasonings provide a literal boost for your nutritional diversity. I just found a curry powder with 13 ingredients! Of course, if you start and mix different seasonings, a few compounds will be redundant. But when you cook – or simply heat up a bought dish – add that little extra. That way, you can even reduce the amount of salt without giving up on flavour. The world health organization recommends 5 grams of salt per day (2). Simply use high-quality seasoning and herb mixtures instead, maybe add a drop of fine oil for flavour, and let it surprise you!

Try smoothies and soups
For a quick energy boost in the morning, I recommend a smoothie. What I love about smoothies? You can virtually throw everything in there, and by adding just a few ingredients for flavour (like oranges) and texture (like bananas) you can create a tasty and always different vitamin shot. Again, remember seasoning like curcuma or cinnamon to increase variety and diversity. For later meals, there are great recipes for soups – even some that don’t require cooking! If you blend your soup, you can easily ‘hide’ some leftovers in there, or some bits of a vegetable you don’t really like.

Share your meals
This is my favourite tip. Have you noticed that also during lunch with colleagues, the grass is always greener on the other side? In our lab, we have switched to a food sharing concept where everybody can take a bit of everyone’s meal. In some cultures, like Corea, it is common to place all the food one orders in the middle of the table. They know that sharing is caring – especially caring about one’s microbiome diversity!

And last, not least: Avoid antibiotics!
Of course, there are some illnesses where antibiotics are essential. But did you know that animals are fed large amounts of antibiotics, and that we consume them, too, when we indulge into our chicken breast or piece of veal? These antibiotics not only kill unwanted microbes, they also heavily disrupt the ecology of our microbiome (3). So in order to keep your gut happy and to get the most out of your nutritional diversity experiment, think twice before you buy or order conventionally produced meat. Consider organic meat or vegetarian alternatives – hence adding even more possibilities for a diverse menu.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577372/
(2) http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831151/

Want to learn more? Visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zpf27hv#z8qrg82 for a little quiz and some more information and https://experiencelife.com/article/your-microbiome-the-ecosystem-inside/ to find out more about your microbiome.

 

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Tips Against Overeating

Have you ever noticed that the type of food you eat can affect how you feel afterwards? Some food might make you wish to rest and relax, some food might give you the little extra energy you just needed. Evidence is accumulating that also in the long run, diet may play a pivotal role for your mental health. For example, it might have an effect on impulsive and compulsive behaviour [1].
But it’s not only the diet that affects our body, mind and brain – it’s also the amount of what we eat. Research shows that people don’t necessarily know what a suitable amount of food might be. Sure you can imagine that this can easily lead to obesity – which in turn can impair our general health.

A meta-analysis (that is, a study that investigates an effect among many independent studies that have been conducted so far) from 2018 came to the conclusion that serving size and the size of the tableware has an effect on the amount we eat: When offered larger-sized portions, packages or tableware, participants ate or drank more than when offered smaller-sized versions [2].

British nutritional scientists now developed a guideline for the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to help people estimate the suitable serving size. For example, they recommend that when having a pasta dish, you should take as much pasta for one person as fits into both of your hands (before cooking). A portion of fish or meat should be about half the size of your hand. However, this does not mean that when you eat more than one portion, you are an overeater.

According to their tipsheets, which can be found here,
https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/find-your-balance/portionwise.html
one should compose his or her daily menu based on a mixture of different portions. For example, 3-4 portions of starchy carbohydrates (such as the above-mentioned pasta) are recommended daily. Their guidelines, however, offer a few handy (literally!) advises to help you get a sense of how much food you should consume, thus preventing you from overeating. With a few simple tips kept in mind, you can do some good for your physical and mental health, daily.

REFERENCES
[1] Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, Amminger GP, Balanzá-Martínez V, Freeman MP, et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015; 2(3):271-4.
View here:
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00051-0/fulltext

[2] Hollands GJ, Shemilt I, Marteau TM, Jebb SA, Lewis HB, Wei Y, Higgins JPT,
Ogilvie D. Portion, package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews 2015, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD011045. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2
View here:
https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2/full

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Breaking news: It has long been assumed that the gut and the brain communicate not only via a slow, hormonal pathway, but that there must be an additional, faster association between gut and brain. Melanie Maya Kelberer and her colleagues from Duke University, NC, now managed to detect this connection. Their paper has just been published in the renowned journal ‘Science’.

By researching a mouse model, they were able to show that the gut and the brain are connected via one single synapse. This is how it works: A cell in the gut (the so-called enteroendocrine cell) transfers its information to a nerve ending just outside the gut. At the connecting nerve ending (the synapse), the neurotransmitter glutamate – the most important excitatory transmitter in the nervous system – passes on the information about our nutrition to small nerve endings of the vagal nerve, which spreads from the brain to the intestines.

Vagal nerveBy travelling along this vagal nerve, the information from the gut reaches the brainstem within milliseconds. The authors now state that a new name is needed for the enteroendocrine cells, now that they have been shown to be way more than that. The name ‘neuropod cells’ has been suggested. The authors interpret their findings as such, that this rapid connection between the gut and the brain helps the brain to make sense of what has been eaten. Through back-signalling, the brain might also influence the gut. In sum, this finding is an important step towards a better understanding of how the gut and the brain communicate. Findings such as this one help us to find ways to positively influence our brain states and our mental health by our food choices.

Read the original paper here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaat5236.long

Kaelberer, M.M., Buchanan, K. L., Klein, M. E., Barth, B. B., Montoya, M. M., Shen, X., and Bohórquez, D. V. (2018), A gut-brain neural circuit for nutrient sensory transduction, ​Science,
​ Vol. 361, Issue 6408

 

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Every time I travel and enter the breakfast room of my hotel, I think of Japan.

And not just because of the curious surprises that I encountered when traveling there. (Once, the hotel’s definition of a ‘western style breakfast buffet’ was shrimp pasta and pepperoni pizza!) The Japanese have an interesting relationship with their nutrition. Japanese cuisine is said to have a much higher dietary diversity than western cultures do.

This is associated with a reduced intellectual decline at older age, as was reported by Rei Otsuka and colleagues in 2017 (among others).  In other words, daily intake of various kinds of food lower the risk that you encounter a reduction of your cognitive abilities as you grow older.

Outstanding, even in Japan, is the island of Okinawa, where many people grow very old very healthily. It is not only dietary diversity that contributes to a long and healthy life. The Okinawans have a useful saying: “Hara hachi bu,” which loosely translates to “only fill up to 80%”. Unlike many of us, they don’t snack, but leave their intestines several hours to process the food. And they move a lot – from walking to dancing and martial arts.

Four Easy Rules for Healthy Eating and Lifestyle

So when I approach the buffet, I like picking a little bit of everything – which is fun, contributes to an interesting breakfast conversation, and might even be a smart move for my brain function and mental health!

The real challenge at a buffet, of course, is not to overeat.

Otsuka, R., Nishita, Y., Tange, C., Tomida, M., Kato, Y., Nakamoto, M., Imai, T., Ando, F. & Hiroshi Shimokata, H. Dietary diversity decreases the risk of cognitive decline among Japanese older adults, Geriatr Gerontol Int, 17: 937–944 (2017)  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/ggi.12817

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Isn’t it amazing what a regular breakfast habit can do for you?

An old German saying states breakfast as the most important meal of the day. And it might be right! A review by Rampersaud and colleagues (2005)(1) investigated the effect of a regular breakfast habit on a variety of outcomes. They concluded that children and adolescents who typically ate breakfast – irrespective of the quality of the food – tended to have better nutritional profiles, were less likely to be overweight – even though they consumed more calories per day! – and had improved cognitive function (measured by memory assessment and test grades).

These findings are crucial since more than half of the high school students reported having skipped breakfast most days in the previous week. What was a big surpriseMuesli yogurt fruit was even a bowl of ‘unhealthy’ ready-to-eat cereal seems to be superior to not having breakfast at all.  However, to maximize the potential benefits of breakfast consumption, of course, a healthful breakfast should be favoured.

In addition to the effects stated above, children’s psychosocial functioning improved significantly when a school breakfast was introduced, indicating that it’s never too late to change your eating habits and benefit from the positive effects of a regular breakfast. A school breakfast program even had positive effects on measures of child depression and hyperactivity.

Parental Eating Habits Effect Children
Importantly, parental breakfast eating was not only a significant predictor of adolescent breakfast eating. The frequency of family meals was the most significant parental influence on adolescent eating habits and even increased the likelihood that children, as well as adolescents, made more healthy food choices in general. So whether you are a caring parent seeking to support your child’s mental health or whether you are a student seeking to improve your potential – remember the German saying when you enter the kitchen in the morning. Grab that whole grain bread, muesli or fresh fruit and vegetables and start your day with an extra portion of brain food and good nutrition!

(1) Rampersaud GC1, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc.2005 May;105(5):743-60; quiz 761-2. PMID: 15883552; DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.02.007

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

New Brain Nutrition is a project and brand of Eat2BeNice, a consortium of 18 European University Hospitals throughout the continent.

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