Health Tips: 7 essential amino acids build proteins, protect your brain

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Psychologist and writer Timothy Leary almost got it right. Turn on (the stove); tune in (to amino acids); and drop out (of the 20% to 25% of folks 65 and older who have mild cognitive impairment and the 10% with outright dementia). A new lab study in Science Advances has identified the specific essential amino acids that protect the brain from neurodegeneration. In fact, in the lab mice, they “robustly rescued” the critters from existing cognitive damage.

Research has long known that lack of healthy protein can contribute to age-related loss of mental agility. But you can make sure your diet supports brain health by including foods that deliver specific AAs, the building blocks of protein.

Your amino acid diet plan: Lysine is found in black beans, quinoa, pumpkin seeds and soy; leucine is in beans, legumes and soy, as well as (low-fat and nonfat) dairy. Phenylalanine is in nuts, fish, beans, soy, poultry and (low-fat and nonfat) diary. 

In the lab experiment those three essential AAs were supplemented with other AAs: isoleucine, histidine, valine and tryptophan. They’re found in nuts, peanuts and seeds, whole grains, fish and poultry -- and valine is in vegetables and mushrooms. One note: A study in lab mice found that isoleucine seems to cause aging of muscles and liver. It’s found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts and seeds. So, the best idea is elimination of red meats and full fat cheese and dairy, and moderation for the rest -- they’re protein-building foods.

Reimagining Thanksgiving sugar traps

During Thanksgiving week, Americans spend around $90 million on pies! And most folks eat around 30 grams of added sugar (far beyond what you should have in a day) in their Thanksgiving dinner -- before they even get to dessert!

But you don’t have to give up your favorite Turkey Day ingredients to eat healthfully. The trick is to prepare them so they deliver maximum flavor and nutrition with minimum damage to you! Pumpkin and cranberries are two favorites that usually come with a sugarcane field mixed in. Here are some alternative ideas.

Pumpkin: Chock full of nutrients, a half cup delivers 245% of the Reference Daily Intake of vitamin A, as well as a good amount of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and iron. If using canned, go for 100% pumpkin -- not pie filling.

Your take: Consider baking hollowed-out mini-pumpkins filled with quinoa, nuts, raisins or dried cranberries and fresh herbs and scallions. For dessert? Blend pumpkin puree, yogurt (coconut is OK, if no sugar added), vanilla extract, a dash of salt and a drizzle of maple syrup (add the least amount needed). Top with chopped nuts. 

Cranberries: Tart, tart, tart -- cranberries are a classic sugar dump. Still, you want to get all the fiber, magnesium and potassium, B vitamins (1, 2, 3 and 6) and vitamins K, E and C they contain.

Your take: Cook them whole in fresh-squeezed OJ; season with ginger; add chopped walnuts and blueberries; and spice ‘em up with cayenne or jalapenos. If you must, drizzle with maple syrup.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.  (c)2021 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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