Posted by Literary Titan
It’s fascinating and scary thinking that the center of our bodies can contemplate its own demise. Our brains can study, research, and fear ailments like cancer and Alzheimer’s. And finding a healthy combination of these reactions might be our best chance at avoiding these terrible conditions. Dr. Shantha Kumar’s Functional Nutrients for Brain Health: A Vegetarian Perspective seeks to help readers find that balance.
Dr. Kumar undertakes a noble, yet challenging, task: helping the mind keep pace with a body that continues to live longer and longer. To do this, she applies her knowledge and experience to a full body type of medicine. In other words, the book’s advice goes beyond nutrition and includes commentary on exercise, sleep, and stress. In our current hashtag nutrition culture, where foods are elevated to savior status with little to no explanation, Dr. Kumar’s words become particularly refreshing. Take this passage for instance, “Olive oil is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fat which is a healthy option for the brain, although it is more cholesterol genetic (increasing blood cholesterol) than other unsaturated fats” (12). Rather than just uplift olive oil as a cure-all superfood, she takes the time to explain how some substances that increase brain health can simultaneously put other parts of the body under duress.
Additionally, the book provides a wealth of nutritional information that though aimed at vegetarians can apply to anyone. I particularly liked the section on fruits – which she lists hierarchically to indicate that not all fruits contribute to the same level of brain health. Just as useful was what food to avoid. I’ve heard a lot about why I shouldn’t eat artificial sweeteners or food coloring, but only now do I know it’s because they “increase free radical formation” and can “trigger generalized allergic reactions” (24).
Unfortunately, this fantastic information is buried in technical jargon. It’s not unusual to come across passages like, “the major apolipoprotein constituent of HDL-like particles in the CNS is ApoE which transports cholesterol and other lipids made by astrocytes and microglial cells to neurons” (14). Passages like the one above, as well as charts that occasionally stretch on for multiple pages, can discourage the average reader. In fact, one might think the book is intended for a professional audience were it not for the lack of sources backing up the information. Dr. Kumar is upfront about this approach. But this combination of medical terms and missing sources leaves the book in a weird middle ground: too complicated for average readers; too simple for medical experts.
Yet, discouraged readers should commit to reaching chapter four’s “Menu Planning Criteria and Strategies.” Here Dr. Kumar breaks away from the medical jargon and dives into specific dos and don’ts of brain health. This chapter transitions into recipes – which again prove more useful than the early sections of the book: even this meat loving reviewer admits that the bean salsa sounds delicious. People motivated to improve their brain health can trust they’ve found a worthwhile guide.
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