Five Foods to Maximize Memory

It’s been even more freaking hectic than usual. #ughh The school year has ended for my son and summer camp is on and poppin’ without barely a break in between. As a WAHM, this tremendously jacks up my routine but in a good way. It means that I push myself beyond my usual comfort zone to remember things that ultimately benefit my family like remembering new faces and names of camp personnel and different pick up/drop off times. So guess what else gets jacked up? Yep, my memory. Remembering little things like whether or not I brushed my teeth before going to bed becomes an issue when trying to balance other items on my agenda. I generally have a decent memory when it comes to the important things (okay I do have this thing when it comes to music where I can’t remember a song title or lyric to save my life but that’s another story for another day 😊).

 

One of the best things that you can do to boost your memory is eat choline-rich foods. Choline is a nutrient that plays a vital role in the development of the brain, particularly the memory center or hippocampus. Choline is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for memory. Lack of acetylcholine means declining memory. Please note that expecting moms are very vulnerable to this deficiency because pregnancy and lactation may deplete choline reserves. Adults may be susceptible to memory decline as they age. Choline can be kind of tricky for vegans because animal sources tend to outnumber plant-based ones with this nutrient. But there are some foods like wheat germ, wheat bran, and quinoa that are great sources to satisfy your choline requirement. In addition, you should increase your fruit antioxidants to scavenge for those damaging free radicals that may lead to conditions that affect memory. There is much evidence to suggest that fruit flavonoids promote beneficial effects on memory and learning by promoting cerebral blood flow. More brain flow means optimal brain function. Here are some of the memory foods that I like:

 

Apples

Apples are loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it has been reported that when compared with other fruits consumed in the United States, apples had the second highest level of antioxidants after cranberries. This means a decreased risk of chronic diseases that may screw with your memory. Some studies have linked apple consumption with a reduced risk of lung cancer, Type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But before you start slicing up that McIntosh or Granny Smith, please note that the peel has the highest level of antioxidants. Apples also contain a plethora of phytochemicals or beneficial chemical compounds such as catechin and quercetin. Quercetin may be effective in improving spatial learning and memory deficits. I like to have cooked apples with a dash of cinnamon (a great stimulant) every now and then with my dinner or dessert.

 

 

Blueberries

Blueberries are another huge fruit in the world of antioxidants. That antioxidant punch may come from anthocyanins that give the fruit its blue pigment. Blueberries have phytochemicals such as folic acid, vitamins A and C, carotenoids, and dietary fiber. Some studies suggest that blueberry consumption may decrease the effects of age-related memory loss and may halt deficits in spatial working memory. In addition, a 2010 study found that blueberry supplementation decreased depressive symptoms in older adults who suffered from memory changes. I have blueberries in salads, chia pudding, smoothies, but it’s summertime so I want blueberries on my ice cream y’all! BTW, I like this ice cream a helluva lot right now.

 

Cauliflower

Cauliflower was always second best for me compared to broccoli. It seemed like bland runner-up to other veggies. When I became a vegan, I found out that cauliflower could be exciting. You can make cauliflower hot wings—MADNESS! Soooo good!!! Cauliflower, like other brassica vegetables, contains carotenes, vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, and iron. And it has glucosinolates, plant metabolites that can protect against cancer. Most importantly, cauliflower contains memory-enhancing choline. Half a cup of cooked/boiled cauliflower can supply 24mg per serving of choline. So don’t be afraid to cram on this cruciferous veggie!

 

Edamame (soybeans)

I have talked about my fan fair with certain types of soy like tempeh here. Soy is a top plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids to maintain and build muscle. Some research has shown that soybeans may have potential for cancer prevention because of the high content of genistein, one of its isoflavones. But soybeans are also a high-choline food. Some animal studies have shown that soy isoflavones may reduce memory deficits and may have a positive influence on spatial memory tasks. What is great about edamame is that they are immature soybeans that have more protein and vitamins than regular soybeans. Edamame contains vitamins B1 and B2, calcium, and phosphorus. I love to snack on edamame as an appetizer when we go out to restaurants because of the light, mild taste never overwhelms the rest of the meal. I like to eat this brand at home.

Rosemary

Rosemary is the ultimate brain booster. I talked about how rosemary may help improve your focus here. Rosemary has antioxidant polyphenols such as rosmarinic acid that also has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It has been reported that rosmarinic acid may be a therapeutic agent for Alzheimer’s disease. Other compounds found in rosemary such as carnosic acid have anti-inflammatory and antitumor effects. And some evidence suggests that rosemary may serve as an antidepressant. Some animal studies indicate that rosemary may improve short and long-term memory processes. In fact, a 2012 study showed that rosemary had a positive effect on memory speed for older adults. Fresh rosemary is killa’ on top of potatoes but when that’s not available, dried rosemary can be a refreshing addition as well.

 

Those are the foods I use to fight memory loss, what foods fuel your memory?

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Five Ways to Handle Headaches

Last Sunday, I woke up with a bothersome sinus headache. I knew that it was connected to the pollen floating around from the previous day. In fact, as my family and I were driving back and forth for our errands, my son looked out the car window and pointed to the small white wisps and said, “Look at all the pollen blowing in the wind!” I rarely get headaches at all, thank goodness, but unfortunately headaches are all too common for many people that we know and love. Common triggers for headaches may include:

  • Foods such as ripened cheeses, chocolate, vinegar, and fermented foods
  • Caffeine
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Drug-related reactions
  • Hormonal factors such as menstruation and pregnancy
  • Visual stimuli such as glare, eyestrain, and flicker
  • Odors and smells such as paint and exhaust fumes
  • Seasonal factors such as sudden changes in weather, humidity, heat, and cold
  • Allergens such as pollen
  • Head trauma
  • Neck pain
  • Sexual intercourse

Chronic headaches can result in lost peace of mind and income. It is estimated that 156 full-time work days were lost because of headaches, at a possible cost of $25 billion in lost productivity. So it is absolutely important to identify these triggers and to prevent these headaches from occurring if possible. And most importantly, seek professional medical attention if you are a chronic sufferer.

On the rare occasions that I do have a headache, there are certain foods that I like to indulge in for relief. Here are some of them:

Green Tea

Green tea leaves contain caffeine (I know, I know, I just said caffeine may be a trigger—I’ll explain), theophylline, essential oils, and polyphenols. Okay, caffeine influences the central nervous system by decreasing fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and facilitating idea association. That’s why we like it now and again, but moderation is the key. In addition, theophylline causes a relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle and stimulates on a respiratory level. This is beneficial for those of us who are suffering from allergy-related headaches. Also, those polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that boost our immune system, definitely a plus when healing your body. Green tea is my beverage of choice for most mornings. I have it plain without an ounce of sweetener (it took me a while to get used to that!) with a dash of amla powder and lemon or ginger juice.

 

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper contains the compound capsaicin that stimulates circulation and aids digestion.  Some evidence suggests that capsaicin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may be useful in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain. And some clinical studies have found that capsaicin may be effective in relieving and preventing sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on my morning avocado toast when I need it.

 

Garlic

I grew up with a Jamaican mother who wouldn’t hesitate to put fresh garlic or garlic powder on any meal she was preparing for dinner that night. And when I say garlic, I don’t mean a dash. I mean a full-blown massive attack where you are walking away with some halitosis. I am proud and, a little bit scared to admit, that I inherited a little of her sensibilities when it comes to this plant. I don’t think I put as much garlic in my dishes as she did, but just enough for my husband to yell that he can smell it from the living room 😊. Garlic is a stimulant, antiseptic, antihypertensive, and carminative. This plant has vitamin A, C, sulfur, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium and manganese. But most importantly, garlic contains compounds such as allicin that have antioxidant properties for scavenging the body for those damaging free radicals, which is definitely helpful when combating pain. I like to have raw garlic cloves with my dinner for that extra boost of flavor.

 

Ginger

One major rule in my household is that we use garlic and ginger in treating a lot of common illnesses like colds and coughs. Again, it’s my Jamaican background, my friend. Ginger, like garlic, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This plant has been studied as a treatment for conditions such as post-operative nausea and vomiting. But some studies indicate that ginger may be as effective as medications like sumatriptan for treating acute* migraines. I like to have a spoonful of fresh minced ginger first thing in the morning before eating any meal. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this brand below.

 

Magnesium-Rich Food

I have spoken about why it is important to have magnesium as a staple in your diet here. Magnesium deficiency may be associated with headaches. For example, some studies have shown that low magnesium levels have been found in patients with cluster headaches. And it has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraines. I like to take the preventive route and have a high magnesium meal like chickpeas with rice when I feel the slightest bit of pressure coming on.

 

So these are some of the ways I ward off headache woes. How do you do it?

*Again, please note that I am not a medical professional, so it is absolutely important to consult one before using any method to treat a serious condition.

Four Tips to Allay Anxiety

Memorial day weekend is finally here! That means cookouts, family gatherings, and late-night fiestas with friends and long-lost acquaintances. But for some of us more introverted folks, that means a potential case of anxiety. Don’t get me wrong—I love to socialize with my peeps when I get the opportunity, which is far and few between these days. But as a WAHM, I’m used to spending hours alone during the week with random social media breaks then afternoons/evenings with my husband and son. So I look at opportunities for social events with lots of excitement and nervousness. Let me be clear: I am referring to mild anxiety that a person may experience with specific events like starting a new job, meeting a potential bae, or speaking in front a group of people. This differs from social phobia that can prevent you from functioning and meeting basic needs. Please seek the help a physician if you suffer from the latter.

Anywho, I like to indulge in foods that are rich in magnesium, calcium, and potassium since those nutrients tend to get depleted during high anxiety times. Some studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may be linked to anxiety. Magnesium works together with calcium and potassium for optimal health. Fortified orange juice and plant-based milk, spinach, and almonds are some great choices. In addition, some research indicates an association between vitamin C and cognitive performance, particularly in older adults, so definitely boost your intake of those foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and potatoes. Here are some other things that I include in my diet during those anxious moments:

Vitamin B12

Among the vitamins and nutrients that are decreased during times of stress are B complex vitamins. This is bad, very bad. For example, low levels of folate are linked to depression. And deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with age-related cognitive impairment. This is particularly crucial for vegans because most vegan sources of B12 only contain trace amounts or are inactive. You can read this article for further details. And while some fortified foods do contain this vitamin, supplementation is the key. I take a B12 supplement in addition to my multivitamin throughout the week.

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Chickpeas

Chickpeas (garbanzo) are a good source of carbohydrates and protein. This pulse contains dietary fiber, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Chickpeas are also a high folate food. But more importantly, chickpeas have tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, the good-mood neurotransmitter. Foods with high levels of tryptophan also contain amino acids that all compete for access into your brain so very little of tryptophan gets beyond that blood-brain barrier. Chickpeas are the exception to this crappy scenario. I like chickpeas salads during the warmer weather but I love falafels all day, any day. I enjoy them in salads, tacos, with rice in my own Buddha bowl, whatever floats my boat.

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Walnuts

Walnuts are high in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. For more on that information, please read here. Some studies have shown links between low levels of omega 3 fatty acids with mood disorders and social anxiety disorder. These nuts contain vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Walnuts also have the antioxidant melatonin, which facilitates sleep. My husband is a real walnut aficionado and he puts them on his morning yogurt. I tend to like them chopped in my baked goods like muffins or other desserts.

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Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are probably one of the top sources of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. What’s more, these seeds contain B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and manganese. Some studies have shown that flaxseeds are an anti-inflammatory beneficial in combating cardiovascular diseases and an antioxidant with some anti-cancerous properties. Also, some research indicates that flaxseeds may be effective in conditions such as blood clotting, controlling reproductive function, and regulating insomnia. I’m really feeling this flax cracker brand as a snack during my hectic anxiety-provoking afternoons.

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Special note: I absolutely believe in the concept of self-care and highly encourage others to engage in it. So if you need to, take a break from whatever you are doing, breathe, and do what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy holiday!

Four Tips to Tame Muscle Tension

For the last few weeks, I’ve had some lower back pain. I’m not the most physically active person, in fact, if you looked up the word “sedentary” in the dictionary, there would probably be a pic of me with a big cheesy grin on my face. So one of the first things I like to do is to move my behind out of that chair! Take a walk, do a few stretches, but something to provide oxygen and energy to my body. Chronic stress can be linked to tension and pain in certain muscles groups within the body. Another suggestion is to create a center of calm. This might mean upping my minutes for my morning meditation or canceling an hour of social media/TV during the week. The point is to nurture and mentally heal so that you can physically heal. When I’m dealing with muscle pain, I like to use anti-inflammatories. Why? The reason is that once the inflammatory pathway is stimulated by injury, arachidonic acid is released then transformed into hormones that can induce pain, fever, and inflammation. Anti-inflammatories work to stall enzymes that change arachidonic acid into those pro-inflammatory hormones. And we are all about stopping the pain! Let me share some of the ways I do that:

Turmeric

What makes turmeric so special is its primary constituent curcumin. Numerous studies have noted curcumin as a potent antioxidant and an antimicrobial. But curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that have resulted in various clinical trials to study its effects on conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ocular disease, and cancer. And a 1999 study has linked curcumin with possible muscle regeneration after injury. I like to put turmeric on tofu and bean dishes but sometimes I like to put some in my morning chia pudding if I feel very achy. Please, please don’t judge me!!

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Avocado

If you are a real plant-based eater, then avocado is your darn best friend—for real! Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), dietary fiber, lutein, and contains antioxidant vitamins A, C. and E. In addition, this fruit stabilizes blood sugar, raises good high-density lipoprotein (blood cholesterol) levels, and provides glutathione to cleanse the liver. Most importantly, it is rich in magnesium that enhances muscle strength and endurance. I eat a lot of frigging avocados because I love them that much! The creamy texture of this fruit is guaranteed to enrich dishes like chocolate cake, pesto sauces, tacos, and risottos.

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Tempeh

I spoke previously about my love of fermented foods here. And tempeh is probably at the top of the list. Soy is considered a high-quality plant-based protein because it contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed to maintain and build muscle. Tempeh is fermented soy, which means that it is free from enzyme inhibitors and those gassy phytates that prevent protein digestion. When it comes to tempeh, I like this brand and this one too. I like to make tempeh reuben sandwiches on Saturday mornings or have tempeh with salad, rice, pasta, or quinoa during the week.

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Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another great source of plant-based protein with all essential amino acids that aid in muscle recovery. What’s more, the seeds are enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) that provide a 3:1 ratio of those fatty acids that is optimal for human health.  That makes the seeds a potent antioxidant. One important omega 6 fatty acid is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has been used to treat PMS symptoms, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and diabetic neuropathy. One more thing about fatty acids: foods that are high in essential fatty acids like hemp are important because the body does not manufacture these acids independently. EFA foods boost the body’s immunity and brain function, and can be converted into easily digestible energy. Hemp seeds also contain zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. I like to sprinkle hemp seed on my morning avocado toast or a lunch salad for an early boost of energy.

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These are some of the ways that I recover from muscle tension. What are your favorite tips?

Five Great Ways to Fight Fatigue

This past week has been really really challenging: my son was off for spring break, the neighbors were especially noisy (#livinginNY), and we experienced indiscriminate weather changes like dry heat/low humidity one minute then moist air/high pollen count the next minute. Not to mention other personal or self-employment stresses. Just make ya wanna holla. So, getting a good night’s rest can be an issue. But I know that when these situations pop up, the very first thing I need to do before I employ any sort of natural remedy is to give thanks for the things that I do have. I have a healthy family, a place to sleep, and food to eat. And believe me, that is a lot! Gratitude must be the foundation for any true healing to begin. Okay, enough preaching—here are some of the things that I use to combat fatigue:

Ashwagandha

I have recently started using this adaptogen and it is bananas how well it works. Adaptogens allow us to handle environmental stressors without further damage to our bodies. This differs from a stimulant, which can decrease brain catecholamines like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Various studies indicate that ashwagandha has antistress, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. When I feel especially exhausted, I combine the suggested dose with a glass of water before breakfast. Please note that some studies indicate that ashwagandha may alter thyroid function and testosterone levels, so please consult a doctor if needed.

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Sunlight and Vitamin D supplementation

Soak up as much sun as possible when you can. Consistent fatigue may be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Older adults, those with increased skin pigmentation (e.g. African Americans like me), those that are obese, and those on medication are especially at risk for deficiency. When possible, I try to work sitting near an open window but this can be difficult during the colder months. So, I supplement with a multivitamin that contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D. The daily recommended dose is 600 IU for those age 1 to 70 years and pregnant or breastfeeding women. You can find out more about it here. In addition, many fortified foods like milk and orange juice contain vitamin D. Again, please consult your doctor if needed.

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Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D, vitamin B, fiber, selenium, zinc, and iron. They are also antimicrobial. What’s more, some research suggests that these mushrooms may boost energy, which is a godsend for us tired folks. I like to drizzle olive oil on shiitake mushrooms and scallions and bake them in an oven for about 8 to 9 minutes. You can toss in a nervine herb like rosemary to ward off any issues associated with fatigue like sadness. (BTW, this is a pic of some random fungi that I took while I was walking but it looks similar to shiitake so enjoy😉)

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Tomatoes

Sometimes, I’ll indulge in a small plate of chopped tomatoes on a veggie burger sans bun for lunch to prevent that midday slump around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Tomatoes are one of many vegetables that contain tyramine, an amino acid that encourages the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Enjoy some tomato salsa with fresh cilantro when you need that extra boost of energy.

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Ginger

Ginger is an absolute staple in our home. We use it for colds and digestion issues and, unfortunately, there are plenty of that in our household! Ginger is a circulatory stimulant that can increase blood flow to extremities like hands and feet—a definite plus when you’re fatigued. I like to have a cup of green tea with a splash of ginger juice first thing in the morning. I also like to have a few ginger slices with my avocado toast.

These are some of the tips I use to fight fatigue. What are some ways that you handle it?