On a crisp October evening, I found myself at a presentation by health and wellness expert Dr Ann Kulze, MD. I must admit, I was not familiar with Dr. Ann and her Eat Right for Life series. I was also likely the only person in the room who hadn’t read at least one of her other titles, subscribed to her e-newsletter or at the very least hooked up with her on social media. But after a little cyber stalking, in which I uncovered that she has the dopest kitchen and posts primal food porn on a regular basis, I realized we’d be fast friends.
Her talk centered around The Happiness Plan, her latest research and findings on eating and living for optimal brain health. The brain, she pointed out, is after all the CEO of the body. You keep it healthy, happy and functioning beautifully, and the rest of your organs should follow its lead.
My notes got a little spotty because I was multi-tasking, but there’s some really awesome stuff in here, so I thought I would share. Saddle up …
Did you know the brain uses 20-30 percent of the total fuel your body consumes? It demands a robust blood flow and clocks in as the fattiest organ in your body. All of this makes omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, extremely important. It’s like Miracle Grow for the brain, controls inflammation and supports a healthy blood flow, but it’s tough to find in food. Start with oily fish. You should be eating oily fish at least 5 times a week. (I’ve been tappin those fins about once a month.) If you consume 1 4-5 oz. serving of salmon for lunch, you’re getting more omega-3s than the average person gets in 3-4 days. (Dr. Ann is a fan of the Wild Salmon Burgers from Costco. Bought ’em. Tried ’em. Loved ’em. Had one from freezer to plate to my gut in 10 minutes.)
You should also be eating: walnuts, canola oil, flax/chia/hemp, omega-3 eggs, wheat germ and small leafy greens
Here’s where she nailed me … When it comes to sugar, Dr. Ann says that the less you do, the happier your brain is. Fructose wrecks your metabolism and is almost a neurotoxin. And – get ready for this fun little stat – it is recommended that women consume 6 added teaspoons of sugar a day, and men 9 teaspoons. The average American gets 23 added teaspoons a day! I’m pretty sure I helped build that statistic, one cookie at a time. Today alone, at a work carry-in, I ate 1.5 bagels, 5 donut holes, a Halloween sugar cookie and a snickerdoodle. I hang my head in shame.
It’s essential that we go for the right carbs for glucose. Those would be: Whole grains, beans (There are 4 varieties of beans in the top 20 list of antioxidant-rich foods. They can be canned, fresh, frozen or dry), and fruits and veggies.
Phytochemicals are freaking amazing. They evolved in plants naturally over time to keep them alive and thriving, and now, when consumed by humans in the form of plant-based foods, they can do the same for us. Dark leafy greens have more nutrients than any food. Berries are magical, and blueberries in particular have been shown to reverse signs of aging. As a rule, the deeper the color, especially blue, red and purple, the more phytochemicals you get. Black rice and beans are swimming in them.
Fiber is key because it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. Dr. Ann spent a lot of time here discussing the microbiome. Essentially, the gut and the brain are directly connected and scientists are finding more and more that our stores of good bacteria have a huge impact on how our body reacts to illness, trauma and even stress. Have you ever noticed that people with chronic stomach issues are typically very easily stressed? According to Dr. Ann, there’s a legit connection between those anxieties and bad microbiome. You want an abundance of that good bacteria for the best defense, and the single greatest influence on microbiome is diet. Eat a generous variety of plant-based food whenever possible and stock up on Mother Nature’s Prozac, fiber. You want 25-35 g each day, but most of us only get about 12.
When she switched to talking about the power of protein, she first gave a list of good options; kefir, eggs, nuts, poultry, beans. But then she explained that instead of memorizing all the good, it was simpler to just recognize the bad, and that’s red meat. If you’re going to have it, she suggests adding moisture, marinating it, adding it to a stew or incorporating it into a meatloaf.
We then bounced over to the vitamin D deficiency epidemic sweeping our nation. While it’s necessary for mood regulation and controlling inflammation, we’ve all listened to the warnings about sun exposure and backed ourselves into a shaded, vitamin D-deficient corner. This can be linked to pain, stress, fatigue, depression, cognitive decline and MS/Parkinson’s. Aim for regular, safe sun exposure, especially on the arms and legs, oily fish, egg yolks, and at least 2,000 D3 supplement each day,
A few final suggestions included spicing things up with ginger, turmeric, curry, garlic and cinnamon, to gain their beneficial effects, as well as a nice, super-dark chocolate, in moderation.
But her magic pill – the one that boosts mood, prevents depression and so, so much more – is exercise. It is, in Dr. Ann’s world at least, a non negotiable. She suggests at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week or 45 minutes vigorous exercise 3 times a week. Optimal is moderate aerobic activity 5 hours a week or vigorous aerobic activity for at least 2 hours a week. You should also sprinkle in resistance activity at least 2 days a week.
She kept coming back to the simple concept that she never gets sick, because she just eats real food. She doesn’t have to worry about reducing the processed crap, because she just eats real food. She’s popular on Instagram because she takes pictures of her eating real food. By the end, it was starting to come together.
So, those were my notes. She emailed me after asking for pictures and I responded with the images and a quick note about how inspirational her talk was. I told her it might just convince me to give up my sugar habit once and for all. A few hours later I received a response saying she was, “really pulling for me with the sugar thing.” Thanks, Dr. Ann. Thanks.