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Cutting down on rashers could save your mental bacon

Gina London


'Highly processed food like bacon are not only bad for your body, but also for your mental clarity'

'Highly processed food like bacon are not only bad for your body, but also for your mental clarity'

'Highly processed food like bacon are not only bad for your body, but also for your mental clarity'

Did you gain some weight during lockdown? I did. And are you doing something to lose it now? I am.

I have joined a personal training gym called Victory Fitness (shout-out to my trainer Vicky). I also joined Motivation Weight Loss Clinic (shout-out to my consultant Aisling).

I’m so pleased with the results I am getting that I want to share some thoughts with you.

Our mental health is directly connected to our physical health. I’m not only talking about how we might feel more attractive when we are more fit, but rather I want to focus on the career-building, attractive brain power we receive when we eat better.

Eric Rimm, ScD, is a Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He’s also one of the leading researchers in the world on nutrition.

Eric says there is an enormous body of evidence that our body affects our brain performance which, of course, impacts our performance at work.

“There is an amazing amount of research on the impact of diet on cognitive function. It’s everything from acute focus to long-term risk of Parkinson’s and cognitive decline and other neurological diseases. And some of it is as straightforward as obesity,” Eric states.

“Everyone knows what the word ‘pandemic’ is now and in western countries, we have a pandemic of obesity from decades of bad diet. We see rates of cognitive decline increasing. It’s an area a lot of people don’t think of right away, but a lot of what we eat crosses the blood brain barrier and impacts cognitive function.

“When you eat a meal, you should think, ‘How does this meal make me feel?’ Not just about fullness. But also about brain health. ‘Does it make me feel drowsy? How am I able to focus?’ As the global population ages, this is a serious concern.”

I met Eric earlier this year at an in-person conference in the US where we were both speaking.

When I quizzed him on nutrition specifically for this column, we chatted via Zoom. I wish I had more space but here are the top areas we covered.


Gina: “Okay. Let’s discuss. French fries. Chips, as they’re called here.”

Eric: “Chips don’t have a lot of healthy nutrients in them. They taste good so they are very easy to overconsume. But they have a lot of calories and they directly impact glucose levels in your blood. Very quickly. Almost quicker than sugar. Everybody likes them. But have them infrequently and eat them in small portion sizes.”

Gina: “What’s a small portion size?”

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Eric: “If you’re having McDonald’s ones, then six fries are perfect. If you’re eating thick cut chips, then three.”


Gina: “Just three?! Okay, Eric, let’s keep the loving flowing. How about alcohol?”

Eric: “The science around alcohol has been around now for 40 to 50 years. The international guidelines have gotten more conservative lately and there are a lot of people who drink too much. Whether in Ireland, England or the US, if you drink too much, you should reduce it or quit completely.”

Gina: “What’s your number?”

Eric: “One or two drinks at any one occasion. One for women and two for men. So, every time you have a Guinness, don’t always have two. But the science does suggest that people who drink relatively frequently actually – having a little bit several days a week – is better than having a lot on just a couple of days a week.

“Think about medications, when you take a blood cholesterol lowering drug, you don’t take all your pills on Friday and Saturday, you dose your liver a little at a time. And with alcohol’s impact on the liver, you should dose your liver a little bit at a time.”


Gina: “So-called super foods?”

Eric: “Don’t think about only eating individual super foods, think about your patterns of consumption.

“Not everybody likes dark green vegetables. But if you make them taste better with a little bit of olive oil and some onions and garlic, that makes a lot of food taste better. Find fruits and vegetables when they’re in season or grown in a greenhouse recently as opposed to something canned and full of salt.”


Gina: “I’m from pork country in Indiana. I could be a vegetarian if not for bacon.”

Eric: “Processed red meat, like
bacon, no one argues, is detrimental to your health. Even a little bit of it is not so great. There are not enough nutritional qualities. Eat it very infrequently.”


Gina: “Coffee?”

Eric: “We have tried for decades to find something wrong with coffee, but it’s a good alternative to water because of the many health benefits it appears to confer. Don’t have six or eight cups or lots of sugar or cream.

“But two or three cups a day are full of polyphenols, micronutrients linked with preventing cancer and heart
disease. People who do show lower rates of diabetes than people who don’t drink coffee. We thought it was bad for you, but it’s actually good for you.”

Nutrition is important. And for you who are in business and may be traveling again or are very busy, it can become an afterthought.

But now you know, it’s the current thought.

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