Brain Food

I read an interesting article in the Behavioral Health Nutrition Newsletter about how food affects your brain. Not about the types of foods that are good for your brain, but about how eating affects your brain.  What you eat and how much you eat involves a complex interaction between the body and the brain.  Different parts of the brain are responsible for different aspects of eating.  For example, the hypothalamus is responsible for hunger and satiety.  The prefrontal cortex is responsible for sending signals to the body to eat more or to eat leas.  And then there are also mechanisms that provide rewards.  Certain hormones are released from the brain to communicate with the body that a food is good.

Recent research has found that also the amount of food you eat impacts this communication system.  In animal studies undereating increased the dopamine response where as overeating did the opposite.  Overeating made the dopamine receptors less sensitive.  Furthermore, which is really interesting, is that undereating or overeating changes the structure and the volume of your brain!

Eating too little but also eating to much is not only bad for your body, but it is also bad for your brain, and the complex communication system that exists between your brain and your body.  I often talk to clients about this concept, but now there is actual science behind it.

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Think Dirty

I’ve been wanting to share this app for a while now.  I was late to the game in changing my skin care products.  Mostly because I just didn’t want to know how bad the stuff was that I was using.  But also, because, I didn’t know how to fix it.  Several years ago my friend told me about this website where you can enter the cosmetics that you use into the Environmental Working Group database and they will let you know if the product contains any harmful chemicals.  When I did put my products in, and saw that some of them were really bad for me, I felt horrible and defeated.  Well, what do I do now?  I thought…

Then several years later, about a year or so ago, I suppose I was ready to take action.  I attended a lecture given by a woman who was getting her Ph.D. in endocrine disruptors.  During her lecture I really understood that the products I am putting on my skin are as important for me to pay attention to as the food I put in my body.  I decided at that point that I was going to make a change.  I would no longer drink out of plastic bottles, I would do my best not to buy foods that were stored in cans, and I would take a serious look at my skin care products.  Luckily, I found the Think Dirty app.  Like the Skin Deep website, the Think Dirty app rates your cosmetics on a scale (0 being the best, and 10 being the worst).  However, unlike Skin Deep, Think Dirty will make suggestions for products that do not contain harmful chemicals, that are similar to the product you entered into the app.  I have, since using this app, replaced my face wash, moisturizer, deodorant, and sun screen.  Next up is my make-up, which I haven’t been wearing for a couple of years, but am excited to have found a line on Think Dirty that is rated all zeros.

Life isn’t perfect, and neither are we.  But at least I know that I am doing the very best I can by buying products that are not harmful to my body.  What about you?

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The anti-diet

I often struggle with identifying myself as a dietitian because the of the word “diet.” The word “diet” in general just refers to the types of foods you eat. For example, my diet today consists of fruits, vegetables breads, nuts, grains, coffee and water. However, in our culture, that is not how the word is used.

The word diet in our culture refers to something that you do in order to lose weight. So, when I say I am a dietitian, I have a problem because I am against diets and I am against dieting. The word diet and “dieting” persist in our country like cockroaches – they never go away. As soon as one diet dies another appears in its place. And on and on. Meanwhile, the majority of experts in the field, (“dietitians”), including myself, are against dieting because dieting does not work.

But instead of saying what I am against, and why I am against it, I would like to focus on what I am for.  These are the principles of the anti-diet.

Enjoy what you eat. First and foremost, like (even love) what you are eating.

Honor your body. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Your body knows how much it needs to eat. Your job is to listen to your body.

Be mindful.  If you want something, eat it. Just be mindful while you are doing it. Be mindful of all the foods that you eat, of where your food comes from, of the impact that it has on your environment and the impact that it has on your body. When you become aware of these effects, without judgment, just mindfulness, you can truly look at your diet. You can see the foods that you are eating for what they are, you can stop eating the foods that don’t make you feel good, and eat more of the foods that do.

If you have confusion about any of this, send me a message. I am here to help. That’s my job as a dietitian and that is what I love about being a dietitian – helping people fall in love with what they are eating.

I've always loved eating @mitchinthekitchen you may see this at graduation

A post shared by Megan Romano (@meganittasty) on

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I review food logs from clients all the time and they often tell me that the feedback I give them is not always what they expect. The number one feedback I give is to eat more fruits and vegetables. And here’s why. It’s often hard to remember that we really should be eating somewhere in the range of 8-10 servings of fruits & vegetables combined per day. I’ll say that again. 8-10 servings of fruits & vegetables per day.

Why have you never heard it to be so much? Well, the Department of Agriculture who sets the dietary guidelines for Americans ( know that Americans don’t come close to that. When they did their aim for 5 campaign they thought that 5 was a more realistic target. The current recommendation continues to be that amount.

The problem with that is it sets people up to eat even less than what is actually recommended. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you get per day? I can guarantee you that everyone, myself included, could be eating more.

Here are 9 simple ways to get more servings of fruits and vegetables

1. Eat a fruit or vegetable (or both) at every meal. This is the easiest tip to remember and even easier to follow. Before you eat a meal – look at your plate. If you have a fruit or vegetable, you’re good.
2. Have fruit instead of fruit juice. Juicing a fruit (or vegetable for that matter) removes the fiber from that fruit or vegetable. The fiber is just one of the many reasons why fruits and vegetables are good for you. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. Mother nature intended you to eat the fruit and vegetable whole (not juiced).
3. At breakfast, have fruit with your cereal, yogurt, or along with whatever breakfast you’re eating. (You’ll feel a lot less guilty about that bacon, egg & cheese if you balance it out with some fresh fruit).
4. Have a fruit of vegetable as a part of a snack. For example, carrots and hummus, peanut butter and apples, a banana and some nuts, chocolate and raisins (you can include dried fruit as a part of your overall intake).
5. Have fruit as or a part of your dessert (I’m not saying to get rid of the brownie or ice cream – just have the brownie with a side of strawberries or peaches with your ice cream).
6. When ordering out, start with a salad or order a side of vegetables to go with your meal. There’s always a way if you look for it (most restaurants will have a side of spinach, broccoli, or some type of green, or even a side salad). Sometimes it is not on the menu & you have to ask. One time I found myself in what people would describe as a food desert & with only option for lunch. I asked them if they could make me a side of vegetables to go along with my rice and beans. When I came back to the office with my lunch everyone was ooh-ing and aww-ing and saying “I didn’t know they had vegetables there!” Well I didn’t know either – I just asked.
7. Stop at a farmers market. You eat things that taste good. Period. No vegetable or fruit tastes better than when its been grown locally and picked at its peak ripeness.
8. Keep frozen fruits & vegetables in freezer. One, frozen fruits and vegetables are also picked at their peak ripeness therefore they are just as nutritious as fresh fruits and vegetables. Two, unlike their fresh counterparts, they last longer.
9. Join a CSA. I talk a lot about this but when you have signed up for a share of vegetables from a farm and they are delivered weekly to you, in your refrigerator, without your having to pick them out yourself, you are much more likely to eat them.