Lavinia Errico asks nutritionist Susan Ramsey about what to eat to keep your brain healthy.

Lavinia Errico, founder of the Inside/Out Movement, sits down with Susan Ramsey, a top functional nutritionist and anti-aging expert, to discuss the gut/brain connection and why it’s so important to your health. 

Susan Ramsey has always been a pioneer in the field, not to mention a very dear friend. When we first met in 2001, she was talking about brain health. Now, many years later, the brain is a hot topic! We’re kicking off our brain health series by talking about a surprising connection: the relationship between your gut and your brain.

Lavinia: “Susan, can you explain the link between the gut and the brain?”

Susan: The brain and the gut directly affect one another. In fact, the gut is often called the “Second Brain” and has more neurohormones than the brain itself! If your stomach, small intestine and colon are not working properly, you can experience brain fog, depression, anxiety and potentially even more serious issues. Factors like stress, poor food choices (like genetically modified grains and the wrong kind of fats), lack of good sleep and insufficient exercise cause a condition I call “leaky gut.” This means that the lining of the small intestine breaks down, sending highly inflammatory molecules into the bloodstream. This can cause widespread damage to other parts of the body, including the brain. Some of the inflammatory proteins can cross the “blood/brain barrier” and cause brain dysfunction.

Lavinia: “What are some of the signs and symptoms of a leaky gut?”

Susan: Gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea are some very common signs of gut dysfunction. A white coating on your tongue may indicate you have an overgrowth of unhealthy flora. Fatigue and lethargy are often signs of gut problems.

Lavinia: “What can one do to heal their gut and support their brain function?”

Susan: Enjoy healthy fats! The things you eat within an hour of waking affect your blood sugar for the next 24 hours. Start your day out right with a power shake: blend a quality protein (like organic pea protein), at least one tablespoon of MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides usually made from coconut oil), one tablespoon of acacia fiber, a third of an avocado or some coconut oil with organic spinach or kale and a green apple. Make sure to get enough sleep and exercise. Also, I recommend you take a plant-based digestive enzyme with every meal (one that contains DPP-IV, enzymes that break down gluten and dairy) and take a probiotic at bedtime, one without arabinogalactans (polysaccharides that can cause adverse reactions like gas and bloating if you’re sensitive to dairy). Remember to drink enough pure water. Don’t eat the same thing every day. Mix it up with your proteins. Always eat your veggies and fruits in the rainbow: red, yellow, orange, green, and white. Don’t forget to have fun, laugh, and stay connected with supportive people. Prayer and meditation can also help to recalibrate your brain/gut connection.

Lavinia: “Most importantly Susan, why is it so crucial to have a healthy brain?”

Susan: Without a healthy brain, you’re looking at a diminished quality of life – a life of depression, anxiety, and mental fog. If you’re not caring for yourself now, even if you’re as young as 30, you’re setting yourself up for huge problems down the line, like possibly early onset dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s so important to eat and live well now to ensure a healthy life later.

Lavinia: “What you do in your 20s affects your 30s, your 30s affect your 40s, and so on – this is why it’s so important to make smart choices now for a healthy life later!”

Susan Ramsey recommends the following foods and supplements for brain and gut health.

Eat food rich in brain-healthy oils, which are vital for both brain and gut health like:

  • Wild caught fish
  • Organic oils: olive, grape seed, safflower, sesame
  • Saturated oil: coconut oil
  • Oils high in omega-3 fatty acids: fish oil, krill oil
  • Avocados 
  • Nuts, especially walnuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts
  • Cage Free, organic, non-medicated poultry and eggs
  • Grass fed meats 

Other important food for a healthy brain and gut:

  • Beans
  • Fermented soy & sea plants containing ALA, which can be converted to DHA (an mega-3 fatty acid that’s a primary component of the brain)
  • Non GMO grains in moderation
  • Vegetables in all colors 
  • Organic cacao for a chocolate fix!

Also remember these supplements to augment (not replace) a healthy eating plan:

  • Acacia Fiber
  • Omega-3 Supplement as fish oil or krill oil, flaxseed oil, or a combination of the two
  • A good multivitamin/mineral supplement
  • Organic protein powders 
  • Plant-based digestive enzyme
  • Probiotics without arabinogalactans