Fat Brains Need Tomatoes - Drew Ramsey MD

Image courtesy Flickr/rpavich

Tomatoes are one of the easiest and most economical ways to increase your intake of a brain-protecting class of plant nutrients called carotenoids. Pronounced ca-ROT-en-oids, these molecules safeguard fat in the body, which is very valuable for brain function, since your brain is mainly made of fat.

Tomatoes are a particularly good source of two all-star carotenoids: lycopene and beta-carotene. Like all carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene are powerful antioxidants. They eliminate free radicals helping avoid a root cause of inflammation. Your brain, with its high concentration of the omega-3 fats, is particularly vulnerable to attack from free radicals, which is a major reason why the increased consumption of all kinds of vegetables is a near-universal health recommendation.

In addition to its antioxidant powers, lycopene also regulates genes that influence inflammation and brain growth. Studies find that individuals with mild cognitive impairment (“senior” moments, for example) as well as Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of carotenoids like lycopene in their blood.

Lycopene plays a role in regulating cell growth, too, which is why studies have shown that it is associated with lower rates of several cancers.

Beta-carotene has the secondary benefit of helping prevent heart disease, which has two interesting relationships with mental health. First, compromised blood flow from a damaged heart is a major cause of mental difficulties later in life. Second, sufferers of heart attacks are more prone to bouts of clinical depression. A healthy heart has a lot to do with a healthy head.

Both lycopene and beta-carotene are available as supplements, but there are good reasons for deriving their benefits by eating tomatoes and other foods, such as watermelon, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens. Clinical studies illustrate the importance of getting these nutrients from vegetables. When smokers were given beta-carotene in a trial attempting to prevent lung cancer, an analysis of clinical trials found they actually increased the risk of lung cancer by 24 percent.

Juicing and cooking these vegetables drastically concentrates the lycopene and transforms it into “cis-lycopene” form, which assists in its absorption into the blood. I think this might explain why slow-cooked tomato sauce provokes a near Pavlovian mouth–watering response. Mother Nature really wants us to eat these warmed up cis-lycopenes!

Adding fat to your servings of tomatoes and other vegetables helps all carotenoids make their way into your system. Tomatoes and olive oil, that classic, delicious food combination, actually provides us with a synergistic health effect. Carotenoids dissolve in fat and are then more easily absorbed in the bloodstream, so olive oil-based salad dressings make good sense in terms of brain health. The fat in the oil increases the “bioavailability” of the carotenoids in your salad.

When shopping for tomatoes, pick organic tomatoes in the store, or shop at farmer’s markets. Look for the smaller varieties, because so much of the tomato’s nutrients are found in the skin, and a pound of grape tomatoes has more skin than a pound of the larger varieties. Also look for darker-skinned tomatoes because they have higher concentrations of other important brain protecting compounds, such as anthocyanins. When tomato season is at its height and prices are low, try stocking up and cooking them down to sauces or homemade ketchup you can use year round.

Tomatoes aren’t in season in most of North America for a few months, but now is the perfect time to put a few plants in the ground. You can grow a few small cherry tomato plants even in a sunny window.

That’s it for this post’s prescription from the Farmacy—enjoy lycopene and beta-carotene packed tomatoes and know you are eating to build a better brain.

The above posting is my once-monthly blog for Psychology Today called, The Farmacy. I cross-post it here, but you can check out the original version online here: Fat Brains Need…Tomatoes

Eat Complete

Winner of a 2017 IACP Cookbook Award  •  Finalist for a Books for a Better Life Award

Named one of the top health and wellness books for 2016 by Well + Good and MindBodyGreen


From leading psychiatrist and author of Fifty Shades of Kale comes a collection of 100 simple, delicious, and affordable recipes to help you get the core nutrients your brain and body need to stay happy and healthy.

What does food have to do with brain health? Everything.

Your brain burns more of the food you eat than any other organ. It determines if you gain or lose weight, if you’re feeling energetic or fatigued, if you’re upbeat or depressed. In this essential guide and cookbook, Drew Ramsey, MD, explores the role the human brain plays in every part of your life, including mood, health, focus, memory, and appetite, and reveals what foods you need to eat to keep your brain—and by extension your body—properly fueled.

Drawing upon cutting-edge scientific research, Dr. Ramsey identifies the twenty-one nutrients most important to brain health and overall well-being—the very nutrients that are often lacking in most people’s diets. Without these nutrients, he emphasizes, our brains and bodies don’t run the way they should.

Eat Complete includes 100 appetizing, easy, gluten-free recipes engineered for optimal nourishment. It also teaches readers how to use food to correct the nutrient deficiencies causing brain drain and poor health for millions. For example:

• Start the day with an Orange Pecan Waffle or a Turmeric Raspberry Almond Smoothie, and the Vitamin E found in the nuts will work to protect vulnerable brain fat (plus the fiber keeps you satisfied until lunch).

• Enjoy Garlic Butter Shrimp over Zucchini Noodles and Mussels with Garlicky Kale Ribbons and Artichokes, and the zinc and magnesium from the seafood will help stimulate the growth of new brain cells.

• Want to slow down your brain’s aging process? Indulge with a cup of Turmeric Cinnamon Hot Chocolate, and the flavanols found in chocolate both increase blood flow to the brain and help fight age-related memory decline.

Featuring fifty stunning, full-color photographs, Eat Complete helps you pinpoint the nutrients missing from your diet and gives you tasty recipes to transform your health—and ultimately your life.


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The Happiness Diet

For the first time in history, too much food is making us sick. It's all too apparent that the Modern American Diet (MAD) is expanding our waistlines; what's less obvious is that it's starving and shrinking our brains. Rates of obesity and depression have recently doubled, and while these epidemics are closely linked, few experts are connecting the dots for the average American.

Using the latest data from the rapidly changing fields of neuroscience and nutrition, The Happiness Dietshows that over the past several generations small, seemingly insignificant changes to our diet have stripped it of nutrients--like magnesium, vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D, as well as some very special fats--that are essential for happy, well-balanced brains. These shifts also explain the overabundance of mood-destroying foods in the average American's diet and why they predispose most of us to excessive weight gain.

After a clear explanation of how we've all been led so far astray, The Happiness Diet empowers the reader with simple, straightforward solutions. Graham and Ramsey show you how to steer clear of this MAD way of life with foods to swear off, shopping tips, brain-building recipes, and other practical advice, and then remake your diet by doubling down on feel-good foods--even the all-American burger.


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Fifty Shades of Kale

Kale gets sexy in Fifty Shades of Kale by Drew Ramsey, M.D., and Jennifer Iserloh, with 50 recipes that are mouth-wateringly delicious and do a body good.
Release yourself from the bondage of guilt and start cooking meals with the ingredients you love: meat, cheese, and yes—even butter. Nutrient-rich kale provides essential vitamins and minerals to keep you healthy, happy, and lean—so you can indulge in your most delicious desires. Whether you’re a cooking novice or a real kale submissive, you will undoubtedly succumb to Kale’s charms.

From Mushroom and Kale Risotto to Kale Kiwi Gazpacho, Fifty Shade of Kale offers simple ways to have your kale and eat it, too, as well as nutritional information, cooking tips, and a tutorial on kale in all her glorious shades.
Indulge your culinary passions with Fifty Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh and Satisfying Recipes That Are Bound to Please.


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