Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Our Brains vs Our Bodies

Today's blog post is going to be revolutionary in that it plows entirely new ground when it comes to our bodies, our brains and our health. It's something that I've been thinking about. Call it a "thought experiment." But there's nothing wrong with thought experiments. Einstein developed his theory of relativity by doing thought experiments, and it was only later that science confirmed what he had come up with in his mind.

Today's blog post will argue for a Blue Zones pattern of eating as being the healthiest way for us to eat. That is in my opinion the best diet for our being able to take care of both our bodies and our health. The Mediterranean diet is a diet that essentially came out of two of the Blue Zone areas, and the whole foods, plant-based diet, while largely in line with the Blue Zones way of eating, is interpreted by many in a stricter fashion, and the foods that many eliminate are essential for our health also. And I'll explain why I say that here.

When I went whole food, plant-based back in 2013, my main issue was my physical health and my weight. I was over 300 pounds and on three different prescription medicines. I was not in good health, and it's quite likely that had I not gone whole food plant-based, I would be dead right now. And if I wasn't dead right now, I'd be a good candidate for serious complications and death from Covid-19. So, suffice it to say, going whole food, plant-based did a lot of good things for my physical body as well as my spiritual and mental well being. I lost 150 pounds, got off of all prescription medications and became as healthy as I was in my younger years.

But as I shed my former physical self, I began to become more concerned about diseases of the eye and of the brain. Living alone, with my wife having passed away over seven years ago, I became deeply concerned about eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration as well as diseases that could eventually affect the brain, like dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I have felt for several years now that those are the diseases that I need to focus on now that I have minimized my chances of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

At first, I took solace in the idea of what is good for the heart is good for the brain. And that is true when it comes to our circulatory system that supplies both the body and the brain. It's like the interstate highway system in the United States. What's good for the interstate highway system is good for our economy because that's how we move goods and services across the country. So, when it becomes clogged, then our economy slows down. So, it's vital to keep our interstate highway system healthy and unclogged, as is the rest of our country's infrastructure.

But having said that, what's good for the city isn't necessarily what's good for the farmlands. Each has different needs in keeping their economies healthy and functioning. So, while the interstate highway system is important to all, the individual needs for a healthy economy are different between cities and farmers.

And that's what I have come to realize with the body too. Our cardiovascular system, our circulatory system is like the interstate highway system. It's how oxygen is moved around the body and delivered to where it is needed. And like our sewer systems, it's how the waste from our bodies gets moved around as well so that it can be discharged as carbon dioxide from our lungs or as other forms of waste through our kidneys.

We need for that cardiovascular system to stay unclogged and to move freely through the body in order for all of our organs to stay healthy. And the whole food, plant-based diet focuses on keeping that transportation system healthy and unclogged. When we say, what is good for the heart is good for the brain, that is what we are saying. The brain needs the oxygen and nutrients that only the cardiovascular system can deliver to it. And so, the brain needs a healthy cardiovascular system. Thus, what's good for the heart is good for the brain.

But just as cities and farms are different and have different needs, so are our brains and our bodies different. And that is the revolutionary revelation that I have had. Hear me out on this.

Our bodies evolved for us to physically survive in the world. That meant they needed to be muscular and needed to be able to withstand the blunt forces that would come at them in the physical world. So, our bodies are supposed to be mostly muscle and bone with very little fat (just enough fat to get us through those periods for when no food was available for our bodies). And for most of us, that's what has become our ideal model of health -- a lean muscular body, consisting of muscle, bones and very little fat.

But here's the rub --- our brains are just the opposite. Our brains are made up almost exclusively of fat cells and our brains contain no muscle or bone cells at all. So, here's the revolutionary part. As much as we may not want to accept it, our brains, outside of the cardiovascular system that serves the brain, have different health needs, and different nutritional needs than does the rest of our body. And that argues for a Blue Zones type of diet, consisting of mostly whole plant-based foods, but also small amounts of animal products, as opposed to a strictly vegan diet.

In a way, we've always known this. Even as a child, I heard fish referred to as "brain food." And as it turns out, fish is a very important brain food because of its omega-3 DHAs and EPAs (that are not found in plants except for algae). Our brain needs DHA and EPA. Our brain functions on DHA and EPA. Some say that our bodies convert short-chain omega-3s from plants into the longer chain DHA and EPA omega-3s, but scientific experiments don't bear that out very well. Some people do, but many people don't do that efficiently enough.

But we've known it in other ways too. Anthropologists have come to the conclusion that our brains didn't start to grow and develop until we began eating meat. According to anthropologists who I have talked to, we would still be much like the chimpanzees if we had never started eating meat. Of course, from an environmental standpoint, the world might be in better shape if we had never developed our brains, but life for us would certainly be different today.

There are a number of nutrients that are important for our brain and there is an excellent article on that, which you can read here.  I won't rehash what it tells us in this blog posting. But suffice it to say that our brains need some animal-based foods in order to be at their healthiest. Please read that article to learn more about that.

I believe the same is true about the eyes. There are no bones or muscles in our eyeballs. Our eyeballs are composed of fat. (I'm excluding the water content that are not only part of our brains and eyeballs but also part of our bodies from this discussion). And that fat has different nutritional needs than the rest of our body does. Again, it's important to keep our cardiovascular system healthy for our eyeballs also. But there's more to it than that.

The unfortunate part about this is, there is no perfect way to stay healthy. But there is a best way I believe. Some of what is good for the brain is not healthy for our bodies, and some of what is healthy for our bodies is not healthy for our brains. So, the two are always in tension with each other. The best we can do is serve both in our diets and in our lifestyles without going to excess either way.

I believe that eliminating fats from our diets is going to excess, and that while it is good for the cardiovascular system and our physical health, it hurts the brain and they eyes. I believe the same about eliminating animal-based foods as well. On the other hand, we can also go to extremes by eating too much fat or too much animal products.

And that's why I've come to really like the Blue Zones way of eating. I think it incorporates the right animal products in the right amounts, and it incorporates the right fats in the right amounts. It seems to be about as close to perfect as we can get in a diet that is healthy for our overall bodies and not just for a part of our bodies.

I am not in any way connected with Blues Zones, and I am not an Amazon affiliate, so I make no money or profit from either of those, but I do recommend getting The Blue Zones Kitchen, which I just linked to here for a better understanding of what I believe our best patterns of eating are. And while much of what I have said here is my own thought experiment, I can say that the Blue Zones lifestyle has proven itself to be a pattern of living that has resulted in people living the longest and staying the healthiest. I'm not sure anything more needs to be said about that. It's convinced me.

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