To learn more about promoting a healthy and active brain, Forest & Bluff spoke with Shaku Chhabria, M.D., who specializes in neurology at her private practice clinic in Gurnee.
How much do eating habits contribute to a healthy brain?
Obviously, healthy eating is the most important, because we see that fast food franchises have contributed to 35 to 40 percent of the population being overweight. And when you’re eating all of those fast foods, you’re already looking at bad fat and bad carbohydrates. Weight gain causes hypertension, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and other diseases. Eating healthy can minimize all of those diseases.
Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are very important for healthy eating. Nuts not only have a good satiety (they satisfy), but the fats in the nuts are very healthy; they help maintain your cholesterol at an optimum level. Sticking to meats that are white, rather than red, is also important.
What other factors contribute to brain health?
Complementing healthy food with exercise is important, because it tones up your muscles and keeps your heart healthy; and if the heart is healthy, there will be adequate blood flow to the body, including the brain. Emotionally, the person also needs to be in a stable situation. We see a lot of patients who are upset and stressed, and instead of learning to control their minds, they go to the doctor asking for medication for anxiety or to help them sleep. But if they learn simple techniques, like meditation, to maintain the mind’s tranquility, that is important.
What are some simple things that people can do at home to sharpen their minds?
They can get rid of the remote, because with television, you’re not interacting, you’re just watching. Instead, you can sit down as a family and do some puzzles, word finds, and play games like chess—which makes you think logically—and other family-interactive games that engage the whole family. Going out for a walk, a bicycle ride, or a hike also keeps you physically stable, and you can do this as a family. And taking fish oils, which have antioxidants, can help repair the brain.
Summer can be a time when children tend to “lose” a little of what they’ve learned over the school year. How can parents engage with their kids over the summer to keep their minds active?
In the summertime, I see a lot of children. The children have studied 290 days in school, and suddenly they have 70 to 75 days of nothing. This is what I tell children who come to see me: Start preparing for the year you are going into. So, if they’re going into 10th grade, they should start reading books at the 10th grade level; if they read one book per week, and write a book report on it, it will keep their minds healthy. Parents can keep kids engaged during the summer by sending them to camps, where they are engaged with their peers and can learn social skills by meeting new people. And they can learn how to work as a team with children of different ages and ethnic groups. Giving children activities to do around the home, so that they learn responsibility, is also important. If you have teenagers, they can get a summer job so they start learning the value of money and, with that, developing an interest in eventually going to college.
Indian Food and the Brain
Though people are sometimes wary of Indian food because they worry it might be too spicy, Dr. Chhabria explains that Indian recipes contain many nourishing ingredients that promote a healthy mind.
Turmeric: A spice that is often used in Indian dishes, turmeric is an antiseptic and a cancer-preventing agent. Studies have also shown that turmeric prevents the formation of a protein in the brain that causes dementia and memory loss.
Oils: While olive oil is popular in the United States, Indians often use canola oil for cooking. Coconut oil, which contains healthy fatty acids that promote brain health, is also used to make Indian sauces.
Spices: Other spices commonly used in Indian foods include ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander (cilantro), onion, chili pepper, bay leaves, basil leaves, and curry leaves. “All of these spices have a mood-enhancing and memory-enhancing effect on the body,” Dr. Chhabria says.
Freshness: Indian food is almost always cooked with fresh—never frozen—ingredients. The fresh foods are described as “sattvic,” which means they promote a healthy mind.
Dr. Chhabria’s restaurant, The Peacock, located at 700 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills, serves some of the finest Indian cuisine in the area. For more information on The Peacock, call 847-816-3100, or visit thepeacockchicago.com.
Chhabria Neurological Service is located at 222 S. Greenleaf Street, Suite 111, in Gurnee. For more information, call 847-360-0044.
-Jenna Schubert // Photography by Jim Prisching