What Food Treats Should You Avoid?


Welcome to Better Brain Fitness, hosted by doctors Josh Turknett and Tommy Wood. In this podcast, we will explore the frontiers of how to keep our brain fit and healthy so that we can perform at our best and do the things we love for as long as possible. Let’s go Okay well welcome to another episode of the Better Brain Fitness podcast i’m joined today by my Co host, the effervescent Dr tommy Wood. Hello Tommy hello feeling particularly effervescent today? Excited to be here.

00:39 : Great to have you. As always. Tommy will be fielding our question on today’s episode, which comes from Douglas in Omaha, nebraska. Douglas asks We all enjoy treats, but what foods should be avoided to protect our brains? What do you say, Tommy? This is a really interesting question and the way it’s phrased. If the foods that Douglas enjoys are indeed just treats, occasional make up a very small proportion of whatever his base or his family’s base diet is, I’m going to say that nothing should be avoided entirely for brain health. And there’s a few reasons for that. I think we talked enough about broad dietary patterns and I assume the people have an understanding from of what we believe that in general our diet should be predominantly whole, food based, nutrient dense, minimally processed and you know if possible cooked at home so you have control over as many other variables as possible and then in that scenario you’re also eating with family there’s lots of benefits that come from that in terms of occasional additions to that in treat form.

02:12 : There’s nothing that I would say you really have to avoid and that’s mainly because of the importance of mindset around food. That and the mindset around how we approach our lifestyle and behavior and their changes. That I think is really important. And so if you think about a food as bad for the brain, say, and yet you occasionally consume that food, then the stress of knowing that it’s bad or thinking that it’s bad plus eating it has an outside, has a greater effect than just eating the food and acknowledging, hey, this is a treat.

03:04 : I’m enjoying it maybe I’m enjoying it with family. It’s part of the, you know some kind of occasion and this is often what happens so if I said your desserts or things with refined sugars or things with refined oils, which in large quantities could potentially be bad for the brain if they’re a regular part of the diet, and that’s certainly the case, I would say that. But if for whatever reason you’re enjoying this treat and this the scenario that you’re enjoying it in, I don’t want to add additional stress, which I think is probably more harmful than this occasional treat.

03:42 : And there are several ways that we can look at this. But when you have somebody’s expectations and then attach that to diet, and it’s actually the same for other aspects of lifestyle, then you can create a negative effect on your Physiology just through your thought processes so there’s a study. One of my favorite studies looked at the N Haynes cohort here in the US They asked them how much exercise do you think you do compared to other people? And those who felt like they weren’t exercising enough compared to people like them, had a higher mortality rate after adjusting for how much exercise they actually do so that expectation that they’re not doing enough seems to have a negative effect and they adjusted for a whole bunch of other confounders as well.

04:27 : And then there’s the classic study by Ellen Langer, and she’s done several studies where you sort of manipulate expectations and look at how it affects Physiology. But the one that’s very relevant here is a study where they had participants, they gave them two different milkshakes, and they were allowed to look at the label beforehand one was a high sugar milkshake, one was a low sugar milkshake. And then they looked at blood sugar responses afterwards.

04:58 : And the as you’d expect, the high sugar milkshake had a greater effect on blood sugar. But these were the same milkshakes. So there was an expectation that this is a lot of sugar, right there’s a stress response associated with it these were diabetics so they have some understanding of how sugar affects their blood sugar. And the theory is that there’s a stress response thinking this is bad, there’s a whole bunch of sugar, it’s going to negatively affect my blood sugar, and that caused blood sugar to go even higher. And there are several studies that say the same thing, that our expectation, you know, adding these sort of negative thought processes to something, even if it’s not necessarily going to support our health and wellbeing by expecting bad things from it, we will make the outcomes worse.

05:46 : And so This is why I think that people should acknowledge that, you know, it’s a treat. I’m consuming it for a certain reason. I would like that it’s because it’s, you know, a friend’s birthday party or Thanksgiving or something and you’re going to enjoy it and it happens so occasionally that it’s not going to have a big impact on your overall health and maybe even the scenario, the social aspects, being with friends, being with family will have a net beneficial effect. Hey there.

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06:48 : All right now back to the show. The only time when I would disagree with myself on that is when and if there are certain foods that you know once you start, you just can’t stop. And this is you know everybody or many people have a trigger like that. And if that’s the case often it’s just easier to say no, you know I don’t eat that because it’s very difficult for them to stop for whatever for whatever reason the various things that are attached to that food. So it takes a little bit of knowledge of yourself, but you know if pumpkin pie is this thing that you have one slice and then you want to and then you just eat the whole thing, maybe that’s something that you think.

07:41 : Not something I’m going to regularly make a part of my diet, even as a treat. But overall, I think if people have a good grounding in a high quality diet and these other things just treats, I would rather they just have them enjoy them and not attach these negative conversations to them that may, you know, have an even greater negative effect than that treat itself. I like that answer that brings up a lot of important ideas. I was thinking one of the things any kind of coach, any sort of healthcare provider probably encounters a lot in the people they work with is trying to get people to this Goldilocks zone or sweet spot where they care enough to act but they don’t care so much that it becomes problematic, right? You start obsessing over everything and then that obsession becomes actually a negative, you know, has a negative impact on their health.

08:45 : Another thing that I think is a helpful way maybe to think about this particular idea is kind of like our conversation around screen time where you know, one of the made, probably one of the major you know, downsides would be if screen time and you know in a teenager, whatever, is displacing other activities that they need right that they’re not getting enough of. And that’s probably one of the probably the most important thing when it comes to like thinking about foods and treats and so forth is you know, prioritizing, making sure you’re getting enough nutrient dense, quality food in your diet.

09:26 : And I think you know, the issue you’re wanting to avoid is where treats or you know, nutrient poor foods are displacing those. The other thing this makes me think of too is that, and I think this has come up on prior episodes, but this kind of strange relationship we have in our current world to pain and pleasure where we were like distrustful about our brain telling us that something is good and we should do more of it, right. So there are, there are so we. So there are lots of, you know, there are a lot of nutrient dense, nutritious foods that taste really good and that we love right there’s like a reason that state tastes better than kale.

10:11 : You know, it’s our brains way of saying yes, this is great, like we don’t have to doubt that so one thing you can do is also just sort of be mindful of all the things like once you kind of flip the frame and realize that there’s actually a lot out there that’s, you know, nourishing and it tastes good, is figure out, you know what are those things and remember that those you know that you can have those really as much as you want. And I think there’s some part of our psychology where something isn’t quite a treat unless it’s bad.

10:46 : And I I’m not sure how you deal with that’s probably above my pay grade to figure out how to deal with that one. But that plays into this in some ways well, that mindfulness component, that’s something that there’s a trick that I know a lot of people use in this setting where, but it’s simply if you’re gonna have a treat, employ mindfulness, as in savor the moment.

11:10 : Like you’re there, This is tasting great. You’re, again, depending on the scenario, you know, enjoying it with others rather than, you know, mindlessly shoving it in your face while you watch Netflix. That’s not going to hit, you know, all the same receptors in the same way so really take the time to savor and enjoy it. It’s a treat so you should, you should, you should get the pleasure associated with it and you’re amplifying all of the positive benefits that are going to come from it, right.

11:40 : This made me think about it so you talked about, you know, on the one hand if you like fear it, then you’re sort of activating the nocebo effect where you’re making the negative consequences even worse. You might as well trick yourself into thinking that it’s actually great for you, right maybe you could actually get some placebo effect from it and make it a make it health promoting. So yeah, use your use your psychology to your advantage wherever possible and how you frame these things so yeah, great answer good question thank you Douglas and Omaha. And if you guys have any other questions related to this topic or anything else in the realm of brain health and fitness ended our way at brainjo.academy/questions okay thanks Tommy.