brain chemistry

The Life Delicious on Shaw TV

Catherine Roscoe Barr | The Life Delicious
Catherine Roscoe Barr | The Life Delicious

My dear good friend, Johanna Ward, host of Shaw TV’s go! Vancouver and YWCA fitness instructor extraordinaire (seriously, go to one of her amazing, thrice weekly DanceFit classes) came over the other day to talk about The Life Delicious!

We exercised on my patio, talked about stress management in my hammock, and made a tasty, quick and easy curry in my kitchen. Watch the segment below.


What is The Life Delicious?

The Life Delicious is the convergence of stress management, exercise and nutrition.

Health, happiness and productivity blossom where stress management, exercise and nutrition converge!

When you prioritize self-nurturing, by creating energy rituals for stress management, exercise and nutrition – by filling your mind, body and spirit batteries – you bring your best self to the world.

When you prioritize self-nurturing, you inspire others to do the same. Imagine if everyone brought their best selves to the world!

The Trifecta of Wellness: stress management, exercise and nutrition

As a full-time personal trainer and group fitness instructor for nearly a decade, I felt there was something missing from the conversation about exercise and nutrition. In general, people know it’s important to “eat well” and “exercise,” so why is there such a serious lack of implementation? Why isn’t everyone loading up on fresh greens and gym memberships?

I believe the missing link is stress management.

A healthy mind makes anything possible. Self-nurturing – a balanced diet, rich in nutrients and open to occasional indulgence, and an active lifestyle with a diverse selection of physical activity – becomes so much easier when you have a positive, mindful, open attitude.

The Life Delicious harnesses the power of self-directed neuroplasticity

Your brain is an ever-changing, ever-evolving organ. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to your brain's malleability, it's ability to physically change throughout your lifetime.

Experience-dependent neuroplasticity describes the passive structural changes your brain undergoes with day-to-day thoughts, actions and experiences. What you think and do changes your brain, for better or for worse.

Self-directed neuroplasticity describes the conscious, mindful sculpting of your brain’s neural pathways. You can physically change your brain by consciously focussing on the positive. Whether you end your day by writing down a list of things you’re grateful for or positive experiences you've had, or just take a minute or two to ruminate on gratitude and positivity, you are changing your brain.

When you consciously focus on how great you feel when you eat nutritious food, move and challenge your body, and spend time doing things you love and with people you love, you are changing your brain.

Neurons that fire together wire together

Using your mind, you’re changing your brain to scan the world for the good, and you’re creating strong pathways and associations between healthy behaviours (mindfulness, physical activity and nutritious food) and happy, positive and resilient feelings.

So the next time you’re trying to manage a stressful situation, deciding whether or not to exercise, or planning your next meal, healthy options will spring to mind, reinforcing them even further.

This is such a powerful and easy-to-implement way to make a balanced, healthy lifestyle practically effortless. It’s made all of the difference in the world to me. It’s kind of magical!

Check out the fabulous TEDtalk with neuropsychiatrist Rick Hanson below on “hardwiring happiness.”


Click on the image below for the 12-minute workout I shared with Johanna.

The Life Delicious | Catherine Roscoe Barr
The Life Delicious | Catherine Roscoe Barr

Click on the image below for the coconut lentil curry recipe I shared with Johanna.

Coconut Lentil Curry | The Life Delicious
Coconut Lentil Curry | The Life Delicious

10 Books on Brain Chemistry

Books About Brain Chemistry | The Life Delicious | Catherine Roscoe Barr It’s no secret, I love talking about brain chemistry! Have you heard about my “Winning Trifecta of Wellness”? The trifecta includes stress management, exercise and nutrition, which are actions that produce optimal brain chemistry.

When you cultivate optimal brain chemistry, you feel good.

When you commit to consistently cultivate optimal brain chemistry, you look good.

If you strive for optimal brain chemistry, everything else will fall into place.

Isn’t it incredible how your thoughts and actions directly affect your health and happiness? Isn’t it empowering to know that you’re in control of what you think and how you act?

The following ten books have given me tangible new insight into improving my health and happiness.

They’ve helped me become more aware of the effects of my thoughts and actions – and more empowered to improve my health and happiness.

I hope you’ll find them interesting and insightful too!

1. Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-body Medicine by Candace B. Pert

2. Must Have Been Something I Ate by Peggy Kotsopoulos

3. Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Natures Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Alan C. Logan and Eva M. Selhub

4. The Mars and Venus Diet and Exercise Solution: Create the Brain Chemistry of Health, Happiness, and Lasting Romance by John Gray

5. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson

6. The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds

7. The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body by Drew Ramsey and Tyler G. Graham

8. Love 2.0: How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become by Barbara Fredrickson

9. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey

10. Super Brain by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph Tanzi


BC Blueberries: Part of Dr Marwan Sabbagh’s Healthy Brain Diet

BC-22-Blueberry-Beauty (Image: BC Blueberry Council)

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast lecture, hosted by the BC Blueberry Council at the Edible Canada Bistro, with author, speaker, geriatric neurologist and dementia specialist, and director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, Dr Marwan Sabbagh.

Sabbagh’s talk focused on how dietary habits influence the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, and how blueberries fit into that equation.

We also received a copy of his awesome new book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook: Recipes to Boost Brain Health, which covers the science of Alzheimer’s disease, highlights of which we learned in his talk, and contains brain-boosting recipes that he teamed up with celebrity chef Beau MacMillan to create.


Dr Marwan Sabbagh, left, and I with his new book, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook: Recipes to Boost Brain Health, at the Edible Canada Bistro. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

The lecture was one of those instances where I was so engaged with what I was hearing that space and time fell away.

You may or may not know that I have a neuroscience degree and that I am passionate about learning and sharing ways to cultivate optimal brain health, so what he had to say really got me excited.

Sabbagh shared a number of things that I already knew but were great to be reminded of and I also took away a handful of exciting and practical new tips for following a healthy brain diet.

Neurodegeneration Begins 25 Years Before Symptoms Appear

One thing he said really struck me. It’s compelled me to put even more thought and care into what I eat. Changes in the brain – negative changes associated with neurodegeneration – begin to occur 25 years before a clinical diagnosis is possible.

In other words, the disease starts 25 years before the first symptoms are detected.

That means there’s plenty you can do right now, through nutrition, exercise and stress management, to increase your chances of having a sharp mind till the day you drop! That, in addition to keeping a long list of nasties like heart disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis at bay.

The Mediterranean Diet is the Convergence of All Good Things

The quickest and most efficient way to influence change, says Sabbagh, is through diet, and he strongly suggests adopting the Mediterranean Diet, calling it “the convergence of all good things.”

The diet includes very little foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, with a focus on consuming dark vegetables (like alfalfa, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, corn, eggplant, kale and spinach), high-antioxidant fruits (like blackberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, plums, prunes, raspberries, strawberries and red grapes), and fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids (like halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna). It even allows for a moderate amount of red wine!

Hooray, Red Wine is Good for You!

Red wine contains Resveratrol, a compound that’s “been shown to have anti-cancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and life-prolonging effects.”

So, is more better? Unfortunately, says Sabbagh, you’d need to drink about six bottles of red wine per day to get the optimal recommended amount of Resveratrol. Your liver would not approve.

Sabbagh’s recommendation: stick to a maximum of two glasses of red wine per day and take a Resveratrol supplement.

Herbs and Spices are Antioxidant Powerhouses

Sabbagh also suggests eating foods with high ORAC, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, scores. He says, “USDA researchers estimate that you can derive great benefits from consuming 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units of antioxidants a day.”

I’d never heard of ORAC scores before. Exciting! Following is a list of high-antioxidant herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables, and their ORAC scores, recommended by Sabbagh.

Herbs and Spices (roughly 2 to 4 grams per tsp)

  • Cloves, ground – 290,283 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Oregano, dried – 175,295 ORAC units 100 grams
  • Rosemary, dried – 165,280 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Thyme, dried – 157,380 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Cinnamon, ground – 131,420 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Turmeric, ground – 127,068 ORAC units per 100 grams


  • Prunes – 5,770 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Raisins – 2,830 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Blueberries – 2,400 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Blackberries – 2,036 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Strawberries – 1,540 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Raspberries – 1,220 ORAC units per 100 grams


  • Kale – 1,770 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Spinach – 1,260 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Brussels sprouts – 980 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Alfalfa sprouts – 930 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Broccoli florets – 890 ORAC units per 100 grams
  • Beets – 840 ORAC units per 100 grams

Fun fact: Sabbagh says that since learning about cinnamon’s high ORAC score, and a study “revealing that cinnamon has direct anti-Alzheimer’s properties," he has a teaspoon in his coffee every day.

Blueberries’ Brain-Boosting Power

Zeroing in on blueberries, Sabbagh says that the science behind the brain-boosting power of blueberries – not just berries with high a ORAC score – is “quite compelling.”

Part of his excitement about blueberries stems from animal studies of blueberry extract which show that it can reverse age-related cognitive and motor deficit, prevent free radical damage in red blood cells, and enhance memory-associated neuronal signaling.

He also calls blueberries a “medical-type food” due to another animal-based study showing their ability to “cross the blood-brain barrier and localize in various brain regions important for learning and memory.”

Many drugs are unable to cross the blood-brain barrier, so this was a particularly noteworthy discovery.

Essentially, the antioxidant-rich blueberry extract was able to not just prevent memory loss, but reverse neurodegeneration.

Suddenly craving blueberries? Just wait till you see the delicious recipes below!

Actions Steps for a Healthy Brain Diet

But first, I want to share some actions steps for a healthy brain that Sabbagh left us with:

  1. Adhere to the Mediterranean Diet
  2. Decrease intake of saturated fat
  3. Increase intake of anti-oxidant spices
  4. Eat BC blueberries
  5. Increase exercise

As well as his favourite brain-boosting supplements:

  1. Resveratrol
  2. Vitamins B-9 (folic acid) and B-12
  3. DHA Omega-3 fatty acids

Smoothie and a Salad: Two Tasty Recipes for a Healthy Brain

The first recipe – which I just whipped up in my blender and am drinking while I write this – was developed by the wonderful staff at the Edible Canada Bistro and served at Sabbagh’s breakfast lecture, while the second one comes from The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook, which is full of fantastic recipes.

Green Zinger Smoothie


(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

Serves 4


  • 2 cups spinach
  • 5 stalks kale
  • 1 cup beets
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 cups green tea
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.

Kale, Blueberry and Pomegranate Salad


(Image: Ten Speed Press)

Serves 4


  • 3 bunches kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup almonds, sliced and toasted
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup soy-sesame vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Combine the kale, blueberries, carrots, pomegranate seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and mint in a medium bowl and toss well.
  2. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss again.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve right away.

Soy-Sesame Vinaigrette

Makes 2 cups


  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp garlic, chopped
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp water


  1. Combine the ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, and peanut oil in a blender and puree until creamy.
  2. Pour the mixture into a medium sauté pan and cook, stirring, over low heat until aromatic and golden in colour, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar to the sauté pan.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water, and then stir the cornstarch slurry into the content of the pan.
  5. Set the pan over low heat and bring the mixture to a boil to thicken, stirring to dissolve the sugar, about 2 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dressing to a bowl and let cool.
  7. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


Direct Your Feet to the Sunny Side of the Street

Charlie the Labradoodle has all four feet directed to the sunny side of the street. I think that brain chemistry and mental health are fascinating subjects.  And, I think that the power of diet, exercise and intention to affect brain chemistry and mental health are sometimes lost on people (including myself).

Here are some interesting tidbits (or bits of tid, as my hysterically funny friends Ryan and Lisa would say) on the subject that I hope you’ll find intruiging too.

Martin Seligman

A recent Globe and Mail article, The wedding's over. Now what?, mentions a new book by University of Pennsylvania researcher Martin Seligman about positive psychology.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“In his new book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, bestselling author Martin Seligman even goes so far as to say that we should teach positive psychology exercises in schools. He moved into the study of positive psychology after 30 years in traditional psychology, which “had been almost exclusively about removing the disabling conditions rather than creating the enabling conditions for people to flourish.” One of Dr. Seligman’s top exercises is the What-Went-Well practice. (It’s also called the Three Blessings.) In order to overcome the brain’s “natural catastrophic bent” – our sky-is-falling tendency to dwell on bad things that could happen – we have to learn the skill of thinking about what went well. From an evolutionary point of view, catastrophic thinking is a survival tool. The Neanderthal who focused on how cool his cave was, but neglected to worry about food, did not survive.”

Read the whole Globe and Mail article here.

Gretchen Rubin

Two of my amazing girlfriends recently gave me a copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (which I mentioned in a recent post is one of the books on my nightstand) and it has a great accompanying website. A recent post about re-evaluating your mantras caught my eye and made me think about one of my favourite self-help authors, who I’ll mention in a minute.

Rubin  says,  mantras “can have an enormous influence on the way that you act and the way that you think.” See the video below for more.

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins, one of my favourite self-help authors, gave a talk to students at the Harvard Business School which was recapped in the student newspaper called The Harbus.

Robbins described a “four-step framework that he says anyone can use to create an absolute competitive edge for themselves”. Those four steps (which you can read about in more detail in The Harbus here) are:

  1. Raise your standards
  2. Create a unique identity and consistently live it
  3. The power of state
  4. Give more

Regarding step three, “the power of state”, which is similar to Rubin’s mantras, Robbins said this:

“Living life the way you want is rooted in understanding that the body tells the brain how to feel. He noted that once you understand how to efficiently adjust your physiology – by studying and learning your physiological habits – you will always have the power to ensure you are in the best state to deal with work, academics, or family.”

Also echoing Rubin’s mantras and Seligman's "What-Went-Well practice" is chapter eight of Robbins’ book, Awaken the Giant Within, titled “Questions are the Answer.” Robbins says that by asking the “right” questions we can change our mental state and improve our quality of life. What are the right questions? Robbins states that “our questions determine our thoughts” and therefore “a genuine quality of life comes from consistent, quality questions.”

Don’t roll your eyes until you’ve tried asking yourself some quality questions! I have a little piece of paper in my nightstand that has morning questions and evening questions to being and end the day. I challenge you to try asking yourself these questions regularly and see what happens!

From Awaken the Giant Within:

Morning Power Questions

  • What am I happy about in my life now?
  • What am I excited about in my life now?
  • What am I proud about in my life now?
  • What am I grateful about in my life now?
  • What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
  • What am I committed to in my life right now?
  • Who do I love?
  • Who loves me?

Evening Power Questions

  • What have I given today?
  • What did I learn today?
  • How has today added to the quality of my life or how can I use today as an investment in my future?