I find it a bit amusing when people tell me they’re going on a diet to lose weight. In reality, we’re all on diets already. It’s just that our diets may or may not be good ones. (It is possible to be on a chips and soda diet if that’s mainly what you eat.)
As I’ve stated before, there are some people who claim neurological disorders, such as ADHD and TS (Tourette’s), are caused by eating the wrong foods. These claims are disproven through studies like the one explained in the article, “A Nuerological Basis for ADHD.” They’ve found through brain scans that many children with ADHD often have parts of their brains that differ in size from their average counterparts’ brains. (Sugar can’t pick and choose which parts of the brain it’s going to delay the growth of, and if it did, there would be many more Americans with these problems.)
There is something to be said, however, for the difference healthy food can make in the manifestation of a disorder. WebMD’s article, “ADHD Diets” says, “ADHD expert Richard Sogn, MD, points out that whatever is good for the brain is likely to be good for ADHD.”
Think about it this way. Michael Phelps has the most olympic medals ever won in one lifetime. In order to maintain his stamina and energy, burning 1,000 calories in only an hour of exercise, Phelps had to eat a specialized diet. His breakfast alone during the 2012 Olympics consisted of, “one large bowl of oatmeal, a large omelet with ham and cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee,” which was followed by a 1,000 calorie sandwich for lunch, according to “Men’s Health News.” And those calories don’t even include dinner.
While eating like that would put me into a coma within a day or so, it was absolutely necessary for Phelps. If he hadn’t eaten enough, he would have dropped below his healthy body fat percentage, and would have lacked the energy he needed to keep up his endurance. Phelps had to eat according to his personal needs. And he has all the shiny medals to prove it.
Our brains perform similarly to athletes’ bodies. In order to perform their best, we have to make sure our brains get what they need. While bad diets don’t cause disorders, they can definitely exacerbate the symptoms.
When I was about twelve, my mom went on a health kick, and I guess I went with her. I’m to the point now, where even sharing a serving of french fries with someone can make me feel awful for hours; my tics get worse, and my anxiety isn’t helped the least bit. Like a body has a range of performance, each brain has a range to function (a high and a low). My brain might never work like Einstein’s, but if I fill it with the best fuel I can, it’s going to work to its best ability. So I’ve decided to compile a list of ten easy substitutions you can work into your family’s meals. Healthier doesn’t have to mean harder.
10 Easy Healthy Substitutions
1. Applesauce – Did you know you can substitute applesauce for vegetable oil in much of your baking? According to TLC’s article, “10 Substitute Ingredients for Lighter Cooking,” using applesauce instead of regular cooking oil will drastically cut the amount of unhealthy fat in cooked foods. For example, I have a blueberry muffin recipe I love to make. The applesauce actually makes it lighter and fluffier than the oil ever did. (I’m talking vegetable oil…not to be confused with Olive Oil, which has huge health benefits.) The benefit will be even greater if you’re using applesauce that doesn’t have extra sugar added to it.
2. Brown for White – This goes for anything in the carbohydrate division: breads, pastas, and rice are all better for you if they’re whole grain. WebMD’s article, “Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain,” says that whole grains improve blood flow, which not only helps prevent heart attacks, but it also helps brain functionality by pumping the blood through successfully. So whether you’re just buying bread for sandwiches, or whether you’re picking up the hotdog buns, going with the whole grain option is always the best.
3. Fish for Red Meat – Sure, we all like a burger or steak now and then (I’ve noticed the men in my family consider it to be a staple part of their diets.) But the main thing to remember with red meat is everything in moderation. Aside from the controversies over how and what cattle are fed, red meat is full of omega-6 fatty acids, according to AARP’s article, “7 Delicious Steps to a Stronger Memory.” This isn’t the good kind of fat.
Apparently, our bodies don’t produce the good fats we need, like omega-3 fatty acids, so we need to make sure we’re getting it in our diets. “Men’s Health” article, “The Best Foods for Focus,” says that salmon is the way to go for this. Yes, I know salmon is expensive. The trick to getting over that obstacle is to buy it frozen instead of fresh.
4. Oils – When we were first married, I could cook, but I wasn’t nearly as familiar with the possibilities in kitchen substitution for nutrition as I am now. For example, I thought that since I wasn’t using Vegetable Oil, I was being healthy by using Canola Oil when I cooked. Since then, I’ve found out Olive Oil is the way to go. Studies, according to NBC News’s article, “Nutty Finding: Olive Oil, Nuts can Protect Your Brain,” have shown that Olive Oil’s monounsaturated fat can help, “protect against the oxidative damage that can cause heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.” They think it might even help fight brain plaque. Hey, I might not have Alzheimer’s yet, but anything clears my brain is good enough for me! And don’t forget that Coconut Oil has similar qualities to Olive Oil, too!
5. Your Butter Vessel – The Daily News article, “Hold the Butter: Eating too much fat slows you down and makes you feel dumb,” says that the amount of energy your body has to put out to process fats can slow the rest of your functions. Instead, it’s important to make sure you’re bringing in good fats, instead of wasting your body’s energy in processing bad ones.
From what I’ve seen in our society, one of the biggest ways to overdo the bad fats is by heaping on that chunk of butter. Unfortunately, it’s easy to put way too much butter on your food. Something I keep in our house to help us avoid this pitfall is the spray butter container. It says on the bottle that five sprays is the equivalent to one serving. Five sprays will still give you that butter taste without having to slap a tablespoon of it on your food.
6. Check Your Cheese – This is an easy one (if you’re not overly picky about your cheese). I love cheese, but my relationship with it is bitter-sweet. Cheese is high in fats, unfortunately,there seems to be a general concensus that they’re generally not good fats.
Cheese does, however, have obvious calcium benefits. WebMD’s article, “Good Protein,” states that milk is also a good source of protein and Vitamin D. Your most simple solution? Read the nutrition labels next time you buy your cheese. From what I’ve found, Mozzerella is the cheese with the lowest fat at my store. You’ll need to read the labels for the brands you buy, however, to make sure you’re getting the best cheese for you.
7. Milk Matters – When I went to visit my doctor a few months back, she was quite unhappy that I wasn’t taking any calcium supplements…until I told her I was drinking almond milk. She informed me that almond milk has three times the amount of calcium in it that cow’s milk does. Fit Day’s article, “The Healthier Choice: Almond Milk vs. Milk,” says that almond milk is made up of crushed almonds in water, which are strained and can be used in cooking and consumption. The article says that almond milk contains the nutriants, “vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, iron, fiber, zinc and calcium.” It’s also lower in calories than regular milk. Not only that, but almond milk is gluten free, and is fine for the lactose-intolerant individual. Why is this so exciting? Because almonds are nuts, and according to WebMD’s, “Eat Smart for a Healthier Brain,” nuts are superfoods!
8. Changing Chocolates – This is probably my favorite. I’ve been sensitive to milk chocolate since I was a little kid. It didn’t make me crazy, but it did make me sick if I ate even just a little too much.
In its article, “Why a Sugar High Leads to a Brain Low,” Psychology Today points out two reasons white sugar is so bad for the brain. First, it reports, “…researchers at the Salk Institute in California found that high glucose levels resulting from quick, easy sugar intake slowly but surely damage cells everywhere in the body, especially those in the brain” This isn’t good news at all for those of us who already have brains working under more stress than most other people’s. Speaking of stress, the article also says, “High blood sugar coupled with performing a mentally challenging task is associated with high levels of cortisol—a stress hormone known to impair memory.”
So what do I do if I feel like eating chocolate? Most chocolate on the market today is milk chocolate. Read the labels, and you’ll find that most milk chocolate and white chocolate is quite high in sugar, and neither of the chocolates have health benefits. On the other hand, dark chocolate, a chocolate high in cocoa, is lower in sugar, and has multiple health benefits. WebMD’s article, “Dark Chocolate is Healthy Chocolate,” says that dark chocolate has helpful antioxidants, and moderate daily amounts of dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure. A little bit of dark chocolate daily can help you fulfill that sweet tooth without busting your calorie counts. Just remember, everything in moderation.
9. Smoothies vs. Shakes – My husband is a huge milkshake fan. Of course, I have to take a sip (or a few) whenever he orders one of these delicacies. The problem with the milkshake, however, is pretty obvious. It’s full of sugar, fat, and whatever else the manufacturers put in it.
If you or your kids love shakes, you can try substituting homemade smoothies instead. No, you won’t get that ice cream flavor exactly, but adding yogurt can make it taste pretty darn close. My husband likes it when I add honey and oatmeal to the frozen fruit in the blender. And instead of adding a bunch of processed sugar, you’ll be adding natural sugars from the fruits you put in it.
Yes, I know that fresh fruit is expensive. I’ll give you a secret though…frozen fruit is much cheaper. There are a gazillion sites out there that have healthy ideas for fruit smoothies. For example, Fitness has an article, “Healthy and Refreshing Smoothie Recipes” that not only describe what to put in the recipes, but their nutritional information as well. There’s really no end to the possibilities!
10. Fact Checking – I’ve discussed this earlier, but this is probably what will help you the most when you buy your food. Read the labels. You won’t know what’s in them until you read. I’ve been very surprised before by foods that I thought were healthy and realized they weren’t. Vice versa, I’ve been pleasantly surprised before by reading the labels of foods I always thought were unhealthy to find they weren’t so bad after all.
All in all, the main idea is to try to cut down on bad fats, processed sugar, and empty carbohydrates. Your needs will depend on your height, weight, exercise levels, and what makes you feel good. I can tell you that after I started eating healthy in junior high, my body adjusted. I feel awful now if I eat something I know I shouldn’t. I became even more sensitive to food in college, when my anxiety and tic levels shot through the roof. You don’t have to switch your eating habits overnight. Instead, try changing one thing every week or so. After a while, your body will adjust, you’ll feel better, and your brain will be thanking you.
What are some ways you substitute healthy foods in your kitchen? Please share in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget to request free information on neurolgical disorders and education, as well as encouragement by sigining up for my weekly newsletter in the right sidebar.