[Review] Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life

Ever since reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ve been fascinated by books on food. To be sure, food is the most important thing in your life; it literally is “life”. Without food, life stops, period. Consequently, without good choices in food, your life and health will be affected profoundly. If you prepare most of the meals for your family (like I do), your responsibility of choice when it comes to food is multiplied. Given this, I always want to know as much as possible about nutrition as I can.

Yet, at this point in my mid-thirties, I have read a lot and I find that usually books on food do one of two things: (1) rehash the same information, often in list-form, or (2) present something new but so devoid of any scientific backing that their findings are worse than bad, they are dangerous (a la, Atkins, Paleo Diet, etc.) So it is always a pleasant surprise to find a book that is scientifically sound, offers something new, and is fascinating at the same time. Enter: Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life.

Brain Maker is a fascinating book. Don’t be put off from it because of the title — I almost was. At first I thought it was a book on how to improve my cognitive skills, and I’ve heard enough of that sort of thing that it doesn’t interest me. However, the book’s title should have been changed to something more akin to what it’s about, that is, the impressively complex legions of bacteria in your body that are quietly orchestrating basically everything about you.

Here are some takeaways from this book that I’ve already incorporated into my own life and I recommend you do the same (pardon the list-form):

1. Eat more Pro and Pre-biotic foods, such as fermented foods, like Kimchi and Sauerkraut. I never realized how important pro-biotics were to nutrition and have consequently incorporated them into my diet. As it happened, around the time I finished the book, I had a large organic cabbage in my fridge just waiting for me to do something with. I decided to made Sauerkraut with it one evening using the instructions on this site. It was super easy, and requires nothing but salt. Once made, it has a super-long shelf life in the fridge (10 months I hear) so I highly recommend having some stocked at all times. The taste will grow on you (excuse the pun). I also stocked some Kimchi in my fridge. The first time I went to Stop & Shop looking for it, I couldn’t find it and assumed they didn’t haveit, until one day I discovered it next to the mushrooms in the most random spot.

2. Stay Clear of Sugar. I generally avoid sugar in the obvious places, like my daily coffee and processed foods. But I stepped the avoidance up a notch and have really nixed it altogether from my diet. I generally don’t eat any sugar aside from the fructose I get from fruit, and the occasional — reluctant — pasta bowl or lasagna (in the form of carbs). I have a killer, oft-requested Vegetable Lasagna recipe that (shhhhh!) I stole from here. You can’t help but get sugar in things like Strawberry preserves, or even organic pasta sauce, so for me, just avoiding all deserts, cookies, and refined white flour have served me well. It is interesting how once you stop eating sugar for a certain period of time, your microbiome has adapted to this more friendly environment and any stray cookie afterwards, makes your stomach feel unpleasant — a good deterrent.

3. Exercise Often: I know, doh! But sweating apparently does affect your good bacteria in an extremely positive way, so you must exercise at least 20 minutes 4 times a week.

4. Drink Red Wine: This is one of the easy ones on the list (at least for me). It is easy to over-do it, so be moderate if possible.