November 30, 2020

Morning Routine: My Breakfast ‘Brain Shake’

Breakfast can either be a chore, or a highlight to your day. Clark and I really look forward to starting your day with our breakfast shake.

If you want a natural approach to managing your mental health, the ingredients in my ‘Brain Shake’ might help you in the same way it has helped me manage. Always consult with your doctor before you try any supplements, especially if you take any prescription medications.

How to Feed Your Brain

Every ingredient in my brain shake is intentional. Back in September of 2019 my body decided it no longer wanted the medication I was taking for Bipolar 1 & ADHD; Lithium & Lamictal. I had been on the medication for over 4 years and was tolerating them reasonably well. I had tried other medications to help alleviate other symptoms I was having, but each medication produced an allergic reaction in me (I cover more about this in my ‘The 50/50 of Taking Medication…‘ article). As of 2019, I completely ran out of affordable options to manage my mental health conditions through prescription medication.

I do believe medication is helpful, especially as an emergency response to serious mental health conditions. But all hope isn’t lost, if you’re like me, and medication works and/or stops working. There are natural/holistic options to help you manage your symptoms.

Without medication, I have definitely noticed my moods swing higher and lower, and intensely, when I do get triggered, but these supplements and intentional food choices have helped me better manage my mood swings…

Focus On Small Steps

What you feed your body is so important! A healthy diet filled with fruits & vegetables is the best course of action to building a healthy body.

All of us are high-achievers at heart. We never want to disappoint ourselves and others… but proven studies have shown that small and simple actions – over time – build lasting [consistent] habits for long term success. So focus on mastering your first meal of the day, and once that becomes effortless, use the template to move on to the 2nd meal, etc.


“Protein helps to balance blood sugar levels, decrease cravings, and burn more calories than eating high-carb, sugar-filled foods. Protein also provides your body with the amino acids it requires. Nuts, seeds, legumes, some grains, and vegetables contain some of the 20 essential amino acids you need.”

– Dr. Daniel Amen, MD

The main source of protein in my shake comes from a whole-food-based beverage mix called ‘Juice Plus Complete‘. My favorite flavor is Dutch Chocolate. I’ve tried several drink mixes for meal-replacements, plant-based, and this – by far – is the best tasting of them all. If I’m going to make this ‘brain shake’ a long-term habit, I want it to taste good. It’s worth the price in my opinion. It’s one of my non-negotiable, will-always-have-in-our-home, food items. By itself it’s delicious (especially with Dark Chocolate Almond Milk). But when you throw in a few additional ingredients, it becomes a fully-flavorful experience. You’ll understand why I look forward to this part of my day, lol 😉 .

What’s in Juice Plus Complete:

  • 13 grams of soy & other plant protein
  • 7 grams of soluble & insoluble fiber

+ Fruits & Vegetables like:

chickpea powder, soy fiber, pea protein, sprouts and ancient grains (broccoli sprout, alfalfa sprout, radish sprout, organic amaranth, organic quinoa, organic millet), pumpkin powder, pomegranate powder, stevia leaf extract, apple fiber, spirulina powder, yucca powder, mushroom powder, and more…

Vitamins Listed:

  • Vitamin D 20%
  • Calcium 35%
  • Iron 20%
  • Potassium 6%
  • Vitamin C 25%
  • Thiamin 50%
  • Riboflavin 50%
  • Niacin 50%
  • Vitamin B6 50%
  • Vitamin B12 100%

More information on Juice Plus Complete can be found here…

Added Fruits, Veggies, Nuts & Chocolate

The Juice Plus Complete by itself is already packed with awesome nutritional value. For the healthy brain, it may be all you need. For those of us with mental health conditions, our brains need a little more support. I add some additional power foods to the drink mix to help give it the support it needs…

Less Dairy – More Nuts

assorted drinks on white commercial refrigerator

It’s challenging to avoid milk and dairy infused with antibiotics and other hormones. Choosing a nut-based milk is a better option. I use Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk, and it tastes great in my shake!

Because I’m sucker for the flavor of chocolate and peanut butter together, I usually always add a small spoonful of peanut butter to my shake. My favorite kind is chunky – Adams 100% Natural (meaning its peanuts only, no sugar, or anything else added to the peanut butter).

Chocolate is Good for Your Brain

brown liquid in white ceramic mug

“Chocolate, in its raw form, is filled with healthful benefits. It’s all the commercial processing, sugar, dairy, and additives that transforms it from a health food to a weapon of mass destruction… A wealth of research shows that extra dark, sugar-free, additive-free chocolate delivers substantial benefits.”

– Dr. Daniel Amen, MD – ‘6 Science-Backed Ways Chocolate is Good for Your Brain and Your Mental Health

Dr. Daniel Amen lists 6 benefits of including [Dark] chocolate as part of your every day diet:

  1. Reduces depressive symptoms
  2. Improves cognition
  3. Improves blood flow
  4. Boosts “falling in love” neurochemicals
  5. Reduces inflammation
  6. Increases serotonin

“Research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition has found that cocoa improves the health of blood vessels, and other studies have pointed to its ability to lower blood pressure. This improves overall blood flow, which is one of the keys to brain health. Low blood flow on brain SPECT imaging studies has been seen with depression, suicidebipolar disorderschizophreniaADD/ADHDtraumatic brain injury, hoarding, murder, substance abuse, seizure activity, and more.

…Yes, science confirms that dark chocolate offers benefits for the brain and mental health, but that doesn’t mean more is better. Stick to no more than 1 ounce and be sure to choose a sugar-free, dairy-free variety that’s at least 70% cocoa.”

– Dr. Daniel Amen, MD – ‘6 Science-Backed Ways Chocolate is Good for Your Brain and Your Mental Health

I add a spoonful of Dark chocolate 100% cocoa powder for added benefit.

On days I feel like indulging in chocolate more than I already do 😉 I’ll add a small amount of Lily’s Stevia Sweetened Dark Chocolate Chips. Because they’re stevia-sweetened, no sugar added, they’re a bit more expensive than regular chocolate chips. This is why I don’t add very many. It’s more to add a ‘chocolate crunch’ texture to the shake. 🙂


sliced green fruit on black textile

Mental health medications come with some unfortunate trade-offs. While you might feel more ‘sane’ and stable, some medications have a side-effect of weight gain. Back in 2015 when I first got on Lithium, I gained 40lbs in the first 3 months! I wasn’t tracking my weight at the time because it hardly ever changed. I had no idea that I needed to watch it closely.

Thankfully I lost that 40 lbs with focused effort on what – and how much – I ate, but my metabolism has never been the same since. I was already struggling with my weight prior to starting on that medication. So I am hyper-aware of my weight and how it fluctuates now, and in my studies I’ve learned of the tremendous benefits of adding avocado to your day:

“What’s more, even though the delectable green fruit is high in fat (the healthy kind), a study published in Nutrition reports that people who eat this delectable green fruit frequently have a lower weight (an average of 7.5 pounds less), lower BMI (body mass index) and smaller waist circumference, compared to those who eat avocados less often or not at all.

Avocado-eaters also had a 50 percent drop in risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of five cardiometabolic abnormalities that quintuple risk for type 2 diabetes and triple it for heart attack. About 50 million Americans suffer from this dangerous syndrome, which has recently been linked to elevated risk for Alzheimer’s and other memory-robbing disorders.

Another health perk of the creamy, antioxidant-rich fruit–known as “God’s butter” in the Amen household–is higher levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, the study found. People who ate avocados frequently also had a much more nutritious diet overall, the researchers found.”

– Tana Amen, BSN, RN – ‘Are Avocados The World’s Most Perfect Food?

For my brain specifically, Avocado has the added nutrients I need to help relieve stress from the anxiety I am prone to experience from day to day:

“Vitamin B6 helps the body make several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, which influences mood. “The B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, have positive effects on the nervous system. Deficiencies of these vitamins have been linked to increased anxiety in some people,” explains Godfrey. Avocados are rich in stress-relieving B vitamins and heart-healthy fat that may help to lessen anxiety. Vitamin E is a nutrient that is important for vision, reproduction and maintaining healthy skin. It’s also been connected with cognition, helps widen blood vessels and is needed for the formation of red blood cells. Because vitamin E is fat-soluble it’s only found in foods like nuts and avocados that have a high-fat content.”

– Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN – ‘Psycom’ – “8 Foods that Help with Anxiety and Stress


yellow banana fruit on gray table

“You’ve probably heard about serotonin levels in relation to depression, as one of serotonin’s most important functions is balancing mood. In addition, the chemical contributes to an overall feeling of well-being, which is why several antidepressant medications are designed to increase levels of serotonin in the brain.

Research indicates that bananas may play a more indirect role by shoring up the amount of serotonin the brain is able to produce. The body needs other nutrients to properly make and use serotonin, including vitamin B6, and bananas are an especially rich source of this vitamin. “

– Carly Snyder, MD – ‘VeryWellMind’ – “Does Eating Bananas Improve Your Mood?


green leaves on blue plastic bowl

5 Reasons to Include Spinach in Your Diet:

  1. Spinach boosts memory
  2. Enhances Focus
  3. Prevents inflammation harmful to brain function
  4. Sharpens cognition
  5. Slows cognitive decline

“The amino acid L-tyrosine is critical for synthesizing (combining) the neurochemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is essential for drive and motivation; norepinephrine is the brain’s natural stress deterrent. Drive, motivation, and stress-resistance are crucial for concentration and focus.

Spinach, along with other antioxidant-rich foods, “(have) rather hopeful implications for prevention of neurological disorders in our increasingly aging population.”

– Megan Ware RDN – Medical News Today & Power of Positivity – ‘5 Reasons to Eat Spinach Every Day, According to Science

Supplements In My Shake


I add this herbal supplement into my shake to help manage my mood fluctuations and to help assist me in my stress-management. I do notice a significant difference when I wait too long to re-order it from Amazon and I have to go a few days without it… (link to the brand I use here). It has definitely helped me with my anxiety!

“The body uses this adaptogenic herb in a number of ways to support its homeostasis and cope with existing challenges, most typically related to stress. Homeostasis is the collective of processes that the body uses to maintain a positive balance of all the conditions necessary for continued life.

In actual human clinical trials, Ashwagandha root concentrates have shown protection against stress and lowered the stress hormone cortisol; reduced anxiety; improved memory, mental focus, fatigue, and sleep quality; lowered food cravings; improved antioxidant defenses; improved thyroid, circulatory, bone marrow, and joint function; speeded muscle recovery and strengthening; and promoted healthy sex drive.”

– Dr. Daniel Amen, Brain MD, ‘Ashwagandha – Brain Boosting Ingredients


People are careful to say that Turmeric helps people manage depression, their main focus is on its anti-inflammatory benefits. I add it to my shake because I believe it helps with ‘inflammation in the brain’… helping to ease my depression symptoms. Studies are still being done on its benefits with mood disorders, but I feel an improvement when I take it 🙂 (link to the brand I use here).

“Sixty patients suffering from major depressive mood disorder were randomly divided into three groups. One group received the antidepressant fluoxetine (a generic form of Prozac), the second group was given curcumin (a turmeric compound), and the third group got both therapies.

After six weeks, all three groups had similar improvements in mood and depressive symptoms. Study co-author Ajay Goel of the Baylor Research Institute said that the findings demonstrate “a novel and surprising application” for the curcumin product used in the research, since the study is the first to show such effects in people.

The spice’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are believed to account for its brain-boosting benefits. There’s also some evidence that curcumin may help ward off dementia, by reducing formation of the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

– Tana Amen, BSN, RN, ‘Turmeric: The Golden Spice of Life And Happiness

Supplement Pills With My Shake

person holding medication pills

Fish Oil Supplement & Vitamin D3

“New research published in The FASEB Journal argues that vitamin D along with marine omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important for serotonin synthesis, release, and function in the brain. It also suggests that vitamin D and omega-3s could work together to improve cognitive function and social behavior with particular relevance to overall mental health.

The research shows one more instance of the scientific community recognizing how vital vitamin D, and EPA and DHA from fish oil are to keeping your brain healthy and happy – and how taking them together may support your brain function and mental well-being in a powerful way.”

– Dr. Daniel AmenBrain MD – ‘Improve Your Brain and Mood With Vitamin D and Fish Oil

The brands I use are:


This supplement was recommended to me for several years. Still I avoided trying it. At the time I felt my medication was enough. I went to my family doctor and they always told me my ‘B vitamin levels were fine’. But once I had to get off of my medication and ran out of affordable options to try for prescription medication, I decided to give B12 supplement a try. Wow! It’s been one of the few supplements where I notice a difference in my attention and improvement in my focus! It’s difficult to completely and accurately describe how it feels, but I just notice more clarity in my mind when I take it daily (this is the link to the brand I use).

“According to the research, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, taking a broad range of vitamins and minerals may also help reduce ADHD symptoms.

In the study, 80 adults with ADHD were given either supplements containing vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, magnesium, ferritin, iron, calcium, zinc and copper, or a dummy pill.

After eight weeks of treatment those on supplements reported greater improvements in both their inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity compared with those taking the placebo.”

– BBC News “Vitamins ‘effective in treating ADHD symptoms‘”

Magnesium (Chelated) – (this is the brand I use).

Juice Plus [Gummies] for Fruits & Vegetable Vitamins

Because we never truly get enough fruits and veggies in our diet, I feel it’s important that we ensure we get the nutritional benefit. I have found the Juice Plus brand to have the best research-backed studies to prove that their product works—not just allude to it on packaging. Their website is filled with all the studies and research behind their brand specifically, and they’re very transparent about how they make their product and why.

They have capsules, but because I take so many capsules a day, I indulge myself by enjoying the ‘gummies’ as kind of a ‘treat-reward’. 🙂 They are yummy!

Link to Juice Plus Gummies

Always consult with your doctor before introducing any herbs or supplements to your diet, especially if you may be pregnant or take other medications.

I hope this helps give you an idea of how you can start your day with good food to feed your brain and start your day out strong!

Our bodies change as we age. We change up our approach to better health management as we grow and learn in our life. 🙂 I’m still learning about what helps me.

What have you found to work for you?! 💚

About the author

Becky Cooper, Certified Brain Health Coach. Often times we find ourselves in need of support in accomplishing life, health, and mindful goals. It takes a great amount of courage to recognize that you can’t do everything alone— we sometimes need someone to help us be accountable to what we truly desire to accomplish in life.  It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child; I feel it takes a tribe to help raise each other [up]. This is at the heart of what I do. 💚  I have found life to be easier when I accept that I am a 'work in progress', and that's enough. While I continue to learn and progress, taking life one step at a time, I can invite others along my journey and help them too; teaching them what I have learned, and encourage them. In December of 2020 I completed the Brain Health training course directed by Dr. Daniel Amen, graduating with the official certification as an Amen Clinics Certified Brain Health Coach. This not only has helped me learn valuable solutions to help myself heal, but also help others who feel the same way as I do; others who are also in search of healing.Read More...


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