Gluten Free For Good


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I think the highly intelligent plant world is trying to tell us something with this chunk of cauliflower.

Doesn’t it look like a mid-sagittal section right out of a frontal lobe, complete with cerebral white matter?

Or, maybe networks of giant axons and dendrites. This head (whoa, it’s even called a head) of cauliflower appears to be a bit left-brain-heavy. What do you think? More neural pathways on the left side? Aaah, must be a linear thinker.

I’ll put aside my vivid imagination and interest in plant autopsies for a moment and talk about the healing power of whole foods. Most of us have enough bizarro stuff going on inside our heads that can sabotage our good intentions, let’s at least give our thoughts some powerful building blocks and mighty antioxidants to work with.

Food for thought

I can’t start this “brain food” list without commenting on gluten as a neuro-cootie. This is official – research has shown gluten to be a neuro-toxin (for some susceptible people). It can cause ataxia, epilepsy-like symptoms, peripheral neuropathy, depression, migraines, brain fog and a host of other neurological problems. In some rare instances, the neurological impact of gluten can even mimic ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), MS and Parkinson’s Disease. Get tested for celiac disease if you have unusual neurological symptoms. A gluten-free, whole foods diet may (will) be beneficial. Check here for Dr. Rodney Ford’s take on this years ago. Scientific research is finally catching up to his diagnostic skills as a physician.

Nutrition for neurons (the basics)

• EFAs (essential fatty acids) are important for brain function. Wild-caught salmon and other cold-water fish, flax seeds, nuts, and pastured eggs are examples of foods rich in EFAs.
• Proper hydration is important for brain function. Dehydration causes the release of stress hormones, which impact neurons.
• Organic, whole foods rich in antioxidants should be the focus of a “healthy brain” diet. Antioxidants help prevent and repair cell damage.
• Sunshine stimulates the production of vitamin D, which is thought to aid in the protection of neurons. Plus, a little sunshine can boost your mood.

My top 8 food picks for brain health

This list is just a random assortment of nutrient-dense foods that I like and are high in antioxidant power. I’ve chosen foods that are easy to find and that people might actually eat. No need to scour the Amazon rainforest floor for some exotic plant or climb the Himalayas for a power-packed berry. Seriously, let’s make this easy. Organic is always best and I prefer eating the whole food rather than counting on supplements. That way you get a diverse combination of beneficial phytonutrients.

1. Cauliflower (I had no choice, this one looks like a brain)
Cauliflower is packed with vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Research is mounting that oxidative damage to brain cells may precede diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. One cup of raw cauliflower contains 94% of the daily value for vitamin C. It’s also anti-inflammatory and is a good source of protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and other plant goodies.

2. Wild-caught salmon (as mentioned above)
Please check out this past post I did on EFAs and why they are important for brain health. The post also includes a detailed break-down of omega-3s and omega-6s and a wonderful salmon recipe. Lots of good brain-building information in that post.

3. Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries.
All of these fruits are packed with antioxidants. Don’t stick with one choice – mix and match them for a variety of protective compounds.

4. Mustard greens
You’re probably thinking this is an unlikely choice for the top 8 brain foods, but I’ve decided it’s a good representative for leafy greens in general (kale, collard greens, spinach, chard). One cup of mustard greens, which I’ve recently become quite fond of, has 118% of the daily value of vitamin A and 65% of the daily value of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamin E and it’s anti-inflammatory. A, C and E are all antioxidants, so this green is a good one to make friends with. I throw it in smoothies.

5. Coffee
Surprise, surprise! As those of you following this blog know, even though I’m a nutritionist, I don’t think coffee is evil. In fact, I like the stuff in small doses and guess what? It’s not only high in antioxidants, research indicates the caffeine in coffee has a neuroprotective effect. Choose organic coffee, use in moderation (1-2 cups per day) and don’t drink it later in the day.

6. Beans
Beans are a good source of easily-absorbed amino acids, which are important in the production of enzymes and neurotransmitters.

7. Organic, pasture-raised chicken eggs
Eggs are one of the best sources of high-quality protein. Pastured eggs are also high in omega-3s, vitamin A, vitamin E and B vitamins, all of which are important for healthy brain function.

8. Dark chocolate
Good, high-quality dark chocolate in moderation is a good source of antioxidants. Plus, a chunk of dark chocolate now and then puts you in a good mood and makes you a nicer person. I’m nicer when people give me chocolate. Aren’t you?

Peace, love and brain power!

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30 Responses to “neuron nutrition (my top 8 brain foods)”

  1. lo says:

    The ancient Greeks & Romans were big believers that the shape of food in the natural world pointed to its healing properties/virtues. So, maybe you’re not so far off with that cauliflower comparison!

    I was just having a coversation about the virtues of cauliflower with someone on twitter today — so good timing!

    I also love that (in addition to chocolate) you’ve also show-cased one of my favorite veg, mustard greens. Especially awesome since they’re deliciously tender in the spring! YUM.

    • Melissa says:


      I love you. You are so smart! You always bring an intelligent piece to the conversation. Plus, you’re just plain funny!

  2. Erin Block says:

    “caffeine in coffee has a neuroprotective effect” –> I love this!!!

    Great post! And, very timely — I feel my brain needs help today (typed as I reach for a small bit of 85% dark chocolate)…cheers!

    • Melissa says:


      That’s what the research indicates. In fact, over the years I’ve run across some fairly compelling research suggesting coffee/caffeine in moderation can have some beneficial effects. But, there’s more to the story, which is always the case. I’m into small amounts (a morning cup) of high-grade, organic coffee. Any more than that and I think I’ve reached the tipping point.


  3. Alta says:

    Yay for brain health. And I’m glad cauliflower made it on the list. It often gets overshadowed by other vegetables, for reasons of health or flavor. It’s not always my first choice, but I’ve become more in love with it as time goes on. And I’m cooking some wild caught copper river salmon tonight, in fact! Already had lots of collards today, and a cup of coffee. Add some berries, beans, and chocolate and I’m golden! Lol

    • Melissa says:


      Yes, yay for brain health. As I said, this was my version of a top 10 (or 8 in this case) list, so it was a bit random. However, the antioxidant levels in the foods I chose are some of the highest. Cauliflower was added because it’s so high in vitamin C and it was the perfect visual for this. It’s probably not on many top 10 lists, but it’s a great addition and I’m convinced we all need a broader base of nourishment.

      Thanks for weighing in on this. I love Copper River salmon. OMG, that is the best!

  4. Maggie says:

    I am much happier having read this post! Yay! I went from 2 cups to 1 cup of coffee recently. I just found that I wasn’t enjoying my second and it was giving me gut rot – it’s always good to listen to your body! In the back of my mind though, I’ve always thought I should give it up all together. Now when that thought reappears, I’m coming to you! Woo hoo, coffee and chocolate in the morning. Did you say something about berries 🙂

    • Melissa says:


      “Gut rot” is not a good thing! =) You’re smart to skip the second cup of coffee and if the first cup bugs you, don’t drink that either. We’re all different. I’m good with 1 cup and I thoroughly enjoy it, but if I didn’t think it served me well in various ways, I wouldn’t drink it.

      You’re right, listening to your body is the best medicine around!

  5. Coming here is always great for my brain, Melissa, even when I haven’t had my daily allotment of cauliflower. 😉 Seriously, I always learn so much from you. Even when I know a few of the things you share, I get a more in-depth perspective and much needed reminders, too. While I’m still only going to consume coffee in a few recipes from time to time (I’m a tea girl), I’m on board with everything else in your list! 🙂


    • Melissa says:


      Green tea should be on that list as well! If you’re not a coffee lover, there’s no reason to start. I just like throwing a few curve balls into the mix. =)

      Thanks so much for your support and kind comments. Your comments always brighten my day!

      See you soon!

  6. Neuro-cootie … you crack me up! Love, love, love cauliflower and all of its cruciferous buddies!

    • Melissa says:


      Thanks! We have to inject some humor into all this stuff or it’s no fun. I’m not a huge, huge fan of cauliflower, but it’s such a good veggie that I try to mix it in with some of its “cruciferous buddies” now and then. I think it’s important to get lots of nutrient variety!

  7. Neuro-cooties, I LOVE it, LOL!!

    I’m not a fan of cooked cauliflower, but I put it (or broccoli) in my green smoothies every single day, along with tons of all the berries you mentioned and a splash of tart cherry juice…even my kids will drink it with no fuss! 😀

    Now I’m looking forward to the day when organic coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation) are allowed back in my diet!


    • Melissa says:


      I love it when you LOL! We must have fun along the way, even in difficult times. Speaking of — I hope you’re doing better.

      I put cauliflower in my smoothies as well. Also, don’t skip the broccoli stalks. They make good smoothie ingredients, too.

      Take care! xo

  8. Great list! Really enjoyed this post. I tend to forget how delicious raw cauliflower is. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Melissa says:


      Thanks! I appreciate that and am glad you enjoyed the post. I’m actually not a big fan of raw cauliflower, but it has such good nutritional value that I throw a few chunks of it in smoothies on occasion. I also slice it thin and put it on pizza along with broccoli, beets, chard, etc. I love odd veggie choices for pizza.


  9. Bravo! Great post. Looking forward to some good discussion.


    • Melissa says:

      Thanks, Lexie. Looking forward to some good “face to face” discussion! Can’t wait to see you! We should have no trouble finding things to talk about.


  10. This is great info. I’m glad I like almost everything on the list, except coffee. I’m about to go have my green and black tea mix. I’m really glad to see cauliflower on the list. I love to make it like rice or couscous. Of course raw with that cashew dip I made this weekend was great too.

    Now the eggs are a big debate in this house. Organic verses organic free range. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this sometime.

    • Melissa says:


      Thanks! As I said above, this was my own “made up” list and I just wanted to include a variety of different options, rather than stick to the same typical “health” foods. Green tea is awesome and there is NO reason to drink coffee unless you enjoy it. And like I keep saying, moderation on the coffee front is key, anyway. Cauliflower deserves to be on the list, as do mustard greens. Not the mainstream choices, but they offer some incredible health benefits.

      Eggs — many of these food labels mean nothing. Natural, free-range, etc. Free range implies that the chicken was wandering the country side eating all the goodies chickens would naturally eat if they weren’t confined to an egg-laying factory. Not true! All they have to do is open the cage door for a few minutes a day and they’re still in crowded conditions. It’s not like they are out in a pristine pasture.

      What I stick to is my Grant Family Farms CSA egg share. The chickens are “pastured” and are given a balanced diet of organic vegetables (from the farm) and a mix of organic grains. They grow at the natural rate they are supposed to grow and are not pumped up with antibiotics. Roaming around outside, scratching the dirt, eating bugs and grass and living like chickens are supposed to live — makes for totally different eggs and poultry. Exercise makes for a different calibre of meat and eggs. Chickens need to roam, not be confined to a factory. Because labeling is so full of deception, I like really knowing where my food comes from (as best I can) that’s why I choose CSA eggs. I’ve been on the farm (Grant Family Farms), I’ve observed the chickens in their natural habitat, I’ve seen what they eat, I’ve even helped paint their homes. I feel good about eating those eggs. Plus, they are much higher in omega 3s and other healthy nutrients.

      I’ve done a couple posts on the eggs in the past, but am planning another one this spring. The older posts need updating as some of the links are outdated, but the info is good. I’ll keep you posted as far as the new egg post goes.

      It’s hard to know the real meaning of labels. Sadly, as consumers, we’re deceived in so many ways. Knowing where your food comes from takes a huge amount of effort, so we just do the best we can.

      Wow, didn’t mean to write a thesis on this, but it is SO important to me for so many reasons (health, supporting farmers who are doing it right, ethical and moral reasons, etc.). I’m passionate about his one!

      I’m not rereading this. Ignore typos and grammar errors. =)

      • Wow how lucky am I to get this great response. During the summer when the farmers markets are open I get my eggs there but during the winter I get them at WF. I buy organic but that’s all I know about them. I have no idea where they are from or how exactly they are raised.

        I do however live down the street from a very small county run farm. They sell eggs but you have to be fast to get them and of course they only sell them when they have them. I’m going to walk down there and learn more about what they feed them. I don’t think their coop is huge and they can’t just roam the farm as I live in a very populated area. But anytime we’ve gotten eggs from there they are always the best tasting eggs I’ve ever had.

        Thank you for all the great info and the inspiration to get to know more about my eggs.

      • Melissa says:


        No problem. This “local farmer” stuff is important to me and I know you are interested as well. You should also ask the people at Whole Foods where they get their eggs and what the details are. I’m sure they’d be happy to explain. This winter I didn’t get an egg share from my CSA (I always have in the past), but my WF sells Grant Farm’s eggs, so I’ve been buying them there. I can’t wait for the growing season to start up again. I really do miss it when my 26 weeks ends each December.

  11. Who could possibly argue with a list like this? Yum, yum, yum! I only recently have been cooking cauliflower and we’re really digging it. I’ve roasted it and chopped it fine to make a rice-replacement. Man is it ever good!

    I used to live in Bellingham, WA and now that I’m a landlubber in Colorado I desperately miss fresh seafood. I had no idea how good I had it ; )

    • Melissa says:


      Yeah! I’m in Colorado too (I love it)! Where are you? Of course, Bellingham is a pretty cool place, too. And the fresh sea food thing is pretty nice, but you could have bison and elk here. =)

      I love roasted cauliflower. Put it on a pizza. Yum!

  12. So glad that I have a ton of cauliflower growing in my garden now! 😉 This was such a great post, Melissa!! And, of course, I love love you even more for making sure that coffee AND dark chocolate were on this list!! You rock, girlfriend!! Seriously!

    • Melissa says:


      And the cool thing is that I’m not making this up. =) Scholarly articles, research, scientific studies — they indicate that coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation, small doses) are both beneficial in several different ways. Hey, I’m jumping on that bandwagon! Let’s have some salmon, sautéed mustard greens, roasted cauliflower and big chunk of dark chocolate. How can you go wrong with that menu?


  13. Do you know anything more about Parkinson’s and gluten? My dad has Parkinsons while I have celiac. I’ve never heard about the connection between gluten and Parkinsons before. I tried to get my dad to try it (gluten-free) but he’s not willing seeing as it isn’t for sure it would work. Also, isn’t gluten related to causing ADHD and such?

  14. Melissa says:


    I don’t, but I’ve been researching it a lot lately. I assist in a yoga class for people with Parkinson’s.

    I haven’t found a genetic link or any research absolutely connecting the two (celiac and Parkinson’s), but I have run across a few cases where people were misdiagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disease when it was actually celiac disease. Gluten can be a neuro-toxin to some people. It can also be inflammatory, so if nothing else, a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet might help in general. And yes, gluten has been implicated in conditions like ADD and ADHD, migraines, brain fog, ataxia, dizziness, etc. It’s nasty stuff for some of us.

    Good luck to you and to your dad. Sending good energy your way.

  15. Hi Melissa… I’m happy to see that most of these foods are regular parts of our family’s diet! Now, to just add in the others and we’ll be all set! Thanks, as always, for an informative, nutritious post.

    Cheers, Pete

    • Melissa says:


      I’m sure you get your daily dose of something off this list. It’s the mustard greens that are hard to fit in on a regular basis. At least I didn’t include burdock root. =)

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the kind comments. Hope all is well with you and the girls!

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