Maya Angelou said, “You can only become great at that thing you’re willing to sacrifice for.” And Steven Covey said, “Only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions.”
In today’s culture of non-stop workdays, the availability of ultra-processed fast food, and the instant gratification we get from binge-watching, it’s not easy to keep up with our physical health. There’s a lot of distractions out there that are tugging on our attention — taking away from our mental and physical wellbeing and even compromising our immune system!
If you want to be great, you have to take care of your body first and foremost. And to do that, you have to be willing to sacrifice some things. The willingness to give up something in order to make a difference takes courage and commitment, but the rewards are worth the effort!
Friends, this is the final episode of the two-part series with my special guest, Shawn Stevenson. So, if you missed part one, make sure to check it out because there were plenty of valuable things we talked about in the first part. If you were here for part one, then get ready for part two.
In this episode, we discussed how fear affects your brain and body, the simple ways you can start strengthening your immune system today, the biggest factors leading to chronic disease, the three most important fats for brain health, and so much more …
Shawn Stevenson is a graduate of the University of Missouri St. Louis, where he studied Business, Biology, and Nutritional Science. He is the founder of Advanced Integrative Health Alliance, a company that provides wellness services for individuals and organizations worldwide. He is also the creator and host of The Model Health Show, which was featured as the #1 Fitness & Nutrition podcast in the United States, with millions of downloads each year.
Shawn is an international bestselling author of the book Sleep Smarter, the book that has helped transform my sleep in a massive way. His other book, Eat Smarter, talks about the connection between food and overall mental, cognitive, and physical health. We discussed his book more in this episode as we tackled the importance of diet to our brain health.
The brain is a very complex organ. It’s made up of billions of cells and trillions of connections that allow us to think, feel, breathe, eat, and sleep. The brain contains fats, and there are 3 types of fats for brain health. Shawn dives deeper into each of these fats in the brain.
“There are three types of structural fats. … These [fats] are different from dietary fats specifically, but we can get the foundational elements from our dietary fats. So the human brain itself is primarily water, … about … 80% water. It’s the most water dominant organ next to your lungs.” – Shawn Stevenson
Our brain is composed of only about 80% water. What this means for you is that it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, especially when exercising or in hot weather. When your body doesn’t have enough fluid, the brain shrinks, which can lead to a headache. That’s why dehydration symptoms are often mistaken for hunger pangs! However, drinking too much water can happen as well, so be sure not to go overboard with hydration if you’re feeling full.
Aside from water, consumption of healthy foods is also important. So, let’s get back to the three types of fats you need for a healthier brain.
There is a common misconception about fats being unhealthy, but there are good fats, as well. One of them is phospholipids.
“The first one I’m going to share is phospholipids. It’s one of the primary structural fats that the human brain is made of. So phospholipids give our brain cells shape. They give our brain cells strength, they give our brain cells elasticity, and these are very important characteristics. We want our brain cells to be strong and robust, to be able to handle damage, and also to be able to generate and support a lot of energy.” – Shawn Stevenson
Phospholipids are very important to the functioning of our brain. They have many roles, such as helping neurons communicate with each other, forming myelin sheaths around nerves, protecting cell membranes, and regulating neurotransmitter release.
“A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study found that the inclusion of phospholipids helped to improve attention and reaction time when people were under stress. So they put them under acute stress, and phospholipids helped them to perform better. So they also noted subjectively-reduced participation anxiety with the inclusion of phospholipids [in their diet].” – Shawn Stevenson
One way of keeping your brain healthy is to consume foods or take supplements that contain phospholipids.
“We can also get them directly from certain foods. You’re going to find them in fatty fish. You’re going to find them in egg yolks. You’re going to find them in oats. You’re going to find them in foods like spirulina. You’re going to find them in … fatty cuts of different fatty-type foods, as well — so fatty cuts of beef, for example.” – Shawn Stevenson
So, if you’re under stress and you want your mind to remain sharp, just consume foods with phospholipids like egg yolks, oats, and fatty cuts of beef.
Every day, our brain is bombarded with information from the world around us and within. It’s up to sphingolipids to process this information in order for it to be used. Sphingolipids are a type of lipid that forms coatings on proteins and other molecules. They help regulate which substances can enter cells and how quickly they do so.
“Number two, … is something called Sphingolipids. … [It is] the second type of primary fats found in the human brain. … Sphingolipids really function as building blocks for our cell membranes, … so this is the membrane around all of ourselves, and by the way, this isn’t just for our brain, it’s also for our entire physiology.” – Shawn Stevenson
Did you notice that when you’re stressed, your brain starts to feel foggy? It’s because of the chemicals in our brains. Sphingolipids are among the brain chemicals — or neurotransmitters — that play an important role in our moods and mental health.
“So there’s a lot of intelligence in that membrane, and … a big part of that is sphingolipids. … Sphingolipids can literally change the architecture of the brain cell. … It can adjust the cell so that it can do things a different way. … What if you have an injury? How does your brain come back? Your brain can find another way. It can adjust because of sphingolipids, … helping to adjust the architecture for the brain cells to still do processes.” – Shawn Stevenson
Some sphingolipids have been found to promote feelings of happiness, while others trigger feelings of depression. A study showed that the central sphingolipid system was identified as a possible drug target for major depression, a common mood disorder.
“Sphingolipids — the other big role that they play is in, actually, cancer prevention because they regulate cell replication. … Cancer cells go replicating, indefinitely, so they help regulate and check cell growth … in the brain.” – Shawn Stevenson
Adding sphingolipids to your diet can help prevent cancer, so I asked Shawn for examples of foods that contain sphingolipids.
“Dietary sources [are] eggs, butter, yogurt, … beef, … rice, and sweet potatoes, as well. … So, those are a few sources, dietarily.” – Shawn Stevenson
So, adding eggs and beef to your diet is beneficial to the brain because they contain both phospholipids and sphingolipids. Now, let’s proceed to the next healthy fat for the brain.
Some people may worry about eating foods high in cholesterol because they think these foods will lead to heart disease, but this isn’t necessarily true at all times. In fact, some studies have shown that good cholesterol can be a good thing!
“So cholesterol is the third one. … It’s another dirty word apparently in nutrition, … but cholesterol is so important for the brain that the brain actually makes it itself. The brain is the most concentrated area of cholesterol anywhere else in our body. About 20% of our cholesterol is located in our brain.” – Shawn Stevenson
Cholesterol is not only important for heart health but also brain health. The fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is a major component of the human brain, and it’s made from cholesterol. The key to a healthy diet is balance — moderation in everything, including exercise and food intake.
Guys, this is such a powerful episode with Shawn Stevenson, and I’m sure you’ll find so much value in our conversation. Listen to the full episode for more wisdom from him. Check out his website for more updates and follow him on social media. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel for access to his life-transforming videos.
This is the final episode of the two-part series. Don’t forget to check out part one of our conversation where we talked about how our mental health is affected when we aren’t taking care of our bodies, why more than 60% of people have chronic inflammation, how sleep affects your brain when you have enough or have too little, the link between inflammation in the body and neuroinflammation, and so much more.
If you enjoyed our discussion, make sure to tag Shawn, @shawnmodel, and me, @lewis howes, on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways. And if this is your first time here, click the subscribe button right now over on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and stay up-to-date on the latest updates from The School of Greatness podcast.
I want to leave you all with Shawn’s definition of greatness:
“For me, the definition of greatness is being the model, being the example, and also accepting that you have to be perfect and being that example, just be in the process, just be working towards getting better because there’s always going to be somebody who is at a more trying place than you are right now. … So just being that example because … if you’re just five steps ahead of somebody with your health, you can help and reach a hand back and lift that person up.” – Shawn Stevenson
Be a good role model to others, and you’re on your way to greatness. I’d like to remind you if no one has told you lately that you are so loved, you are worthy, and you matter! I’m so grateful for you — now do you know what time it is? It’s time to go out there and do something great.