Dr. Eric Braverman hit the New York Times bestseller list with his first book Younger You. In his second book, Younger (Thinner) You Diet: How Understanding Your Brain Chemistry Can Help You Lose Weight, Reverse Aging, and Fight Disease, Dr. Braverman explains the link between brain chemistry and eating.
His premise is that we eat in order to gain nutrients. Since our food has fewer nutrients today than ever before in history, we are driven to eat more. This lack of nutrients plus our genetic makeup and the natural process of aging can lead to deficiencies in four main biochemicals: dopamine, acetylcholine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and serotonin. Dr. Braverman includes a test in his book for determining which of these brain chemicals we might be lacking, and then tailors a diet for replenishing us. Once our brain has a balanced chemistry, we will feel better, function better, and even make better food choices because “weight loss occurs in your brain.”
He was led to this theory by studying anti-aging. He learned that “not only does a brain chemistry imbalance lead to weight gain, it also leads to aging and disease.” His diet plan (he includes a 30-day meal plan; high-protein, low-fat, low-carb recipes; and instructions for exercising) teaches how to “compensate for a genetic predisposition to gain weight by teaching you easy ways to change your brain chemistry.”
His self-tests are centered around personality traits and food cravings which can indicate a deficiency of dopamine (“creates brain power”), acetylcholine (“controls brain speed”), GABA (“maintains brain rhythm”), and serotonin (“keeps your brain in sync.”) Dr. Braverman can also diagnose a brain chemistry imbalance in his office by using a brain mapping system known as BEAM. The Younger (Thinner) You Diet works on everyone, but once you know which chemicals you might be most deficient in, you can tailor the diet to suit your needs.
For instance, if you are low on dopamine, you should avoid foods that deplete it, especially sugar. Dr. Braverman recommends using aspartame in its place because it contains phenylalanine—a building block for dopamine. Phenylalanine is also found in high-protein foods like red meat, poultry, dairy products, and wheat germ. Those who need more acetylcholine should seek out choline “a nutrient that begins as a B vitamin and is converted through digestion to acetylcholine.” Choline is found in fats, but Dr. Braverman recommends reaching for good fats found in foods like olive oil, fish, avocados, eggs, lean meats, low-fat (not fat-free) dairy products—especially yogurt, and unsalted nuts. The spice turmeric “stimulates the production of acetylcholine, and it has been proven to help unclog amyloid, the garbage that mucks up the pathways of the brain.”
If you determine that you are low on GABA, you need to focus on fiber-rich foods and complex carbohydrates—whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, oats, brown rice and muesli. Foods that are high in vitamin B also boost GABA. “In particular, bananas, broccoli, and brown rice are all packed with inositol, a B-complex vitamin that boosts GABA production.” To increase serotonin production, focus on foods high in tryptophan, “an amino acid the brain and body needs, but cannot make on its own.” Dr. Braverman recommends low-calorie foods that are high in tryptophan, specifically avocados, eggs, and cottage cheese. Skinless chicken, duck, and turkey are high in tryptophan, as are wheat germ, rolled oats, yogurt, milk, and dark chocolate. Spices that stimulate serotonin production are saffron, marjoram, dill, nutmeg, and turmeric.
Braverman’s point: “Nutrient density trumps calories. A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. This program is about counting nutrients, not calories.” He includes a few more self-tests to see how old your other body systems might be, and charts for seeing at a glance which spices, fruits, and vegetables stimulate which brain chemicals. Younger (Thinner) You Diet , published by Rodale can be purchased at www.youngerthinneryoudiet.com.