Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t by Sharon Johnson O’Donnell

I don’t know what’s worse: getting captivated by a wrinkle cream infomercial when you are lying down and can’t find the remote or getting captivated by a healthy diet infomercial when you’re lying down and can’t find the remote. Either way, you are a captive audience for a at least several minutes, which is all it takes to rope you in. Recently, it was the PBS presentation that got me – not an infomercial but just as concerning and persuasive.

This one was about brain health, but most of the things you should do for your brain is also what you need to do for the rest of your body. Heart healthy is also brain healthy. The name of the book featured in this segment was Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory by Dr. Neal Barnard.
I’ve been taking a multivitamin for years along with a vitamin specifically for eye health since my mother has macular degeneration that affected her vision, and I’ve had problems with dry eyes. However, one of the points of this presentation was that free radicals created by the oxidation of iron and copper in the brain were major causes of memory loss and dementia. Sure, our bodies need iron and copper but not too much, so the author of the book they were promoting encouraged viewers to check our vitamin bottles because it’s better to get the vitamins without iron and copper. Well, I did go check my multivitamin bottle – the vitamins I love because they are the easy-to-swallow smooth, smaller kind – and yes, they did indeed have iron and copper included. Then I checked my eye vitamin, and they, too, included iron and copper.

So what’s a person to do? I’ve been thinking I was doing something good for my health when it might have actually had an opposite side effect. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. All the information can be so confusing. Perhaps I should alternate days in taking each of the vitamins, or just search for another iron/copper free brand, but if it’s any bigger than the one I currently take, I doubt I’d take it every day because I hate swallowing pills. I don’t know how I ever swallowed all those prenatal vitamins that look like horse pills.
The good news was that Vitamin E can offset the bad effects of too much iron and copper, but Dr. Barnard says that the key is to get it through diet and not pills through foods such as spinach, nuts, and sweet potatoes. He also suggests taking B vitamins such as B12 and folic acid. In addition, he encourages us to eliminate aluminum from our diets by taking aluminum-free antacids and using stainless steel pots and pans instead of aluminum ones. And no cast-iron pans. Or copper pipes in our houses.

Got all that? Well, there’s more. We’ve heard wine is good for you, but he says it’s the grapes in it that provide those benefits, not the alcohol. So drinking 2 cups of grape juice – or blueberry juice – per day is one way to attain these health advantages. And you’ve heard it before in heart and body health tips, but it’s good advice for brain health too: avoid bad fats like cheese, butter, milk, red meat, and of course doughnuts, cakes, etc. My oldest son drinks tons of milk, so this would be tough for him. Dr. Barnard suggests almond milk, but I bought some of that several months ago for my son, and it sat in the refrigerator until it expired, and I had to throw it out. I’m trying to do more things for my health and the health of my family, but the wisdom of years past was that milk was good for you. And now I’m told that my healthy 6 foot 6 son who has never had a cavity in his life that milk is not good for him after all?

I realize that as more research is done and studies that began long ago are coming to their close, we will inevitable get new information about things that benefit our health. Yet, it’s still frustrating to think we’ve been doing something good and instead find out it was detrimental in some serious ways. I find myself not even wanting to cook for my family because there is something bad about basically everything in the grocery store. Instead of using canola oil, I starting using olive oil to fry my chicken with breadcrumbs as a coating, and that has worked out well. My sons love it. Of course, they like it best when it is covered in marinara sauce and cheese. I guess we must take small steps in making changes to our traditional diets and old family recipes. And hope that next year, there isn’t another study that comes out that says this information is all wrong.