Welcome to the Brain Works Kitchen: Where we are cooking up a plan to wipe out Alzheimer’s
Welcome! I’m Annie Fenn, a physician, food writer and culinary instructor. I’m here to help you cultivate a nourished, healthy, dementia-free brain. You may know me from Jackson Hole Foodie where I write about food and adventures in my hometown of Jackson, Wyoming. Now I’m on a foodie mission of another sort. Experts predict up to 50% of all cases of Alzheimer’s could be delayed or prevented if we just took better care of our brains. I’m here to help you cook up a plan to keep your brain healthy. And that means getting into the kitchen to cook with whole foods.
What’s food got to do with Alzheimer’s?
As it turns out, what we eat and how we eat really matters for brain health. Even though we still don’t know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s, the scientific community is bursting with information about how to prevent it. And eating certain foods — we call them “brain healthy foods” — is one of the most powerful ways we can reduce our risk.
For the last two years I have taught hundreds of motivated students all over the country how to cook and eat to reduce their risk of dementia. These Brain Works cooking classes began as part of an innovative 8-week dementia prevention course created by cognitive health specialist Dr. Martha Stearn.
There is compelling evidence in the scientific literature that lifestyle changes have an impact on Alzheimer’s risk. That’s why Brain Works incorporates nutrition, meditation, exercise, sleep habits, and stress management into its curriculum. We know a healthy aging brain needs to be constantly learning — that’s how we build up cognitive reserve, a key concept in Alzheimer’s prevention. Brain Works students challenge their brains with a computerized cognitive training tool. And by learning new recipes and cooking techniques with me in the Brain Works Kitchen!
Learn more about Brain Works cooking classes and the dementia prevention program here.
Simply put, the Brain Works Kitchen is an entirely new way to think about how we eat.
I like to think of cooking for brain health as an art and a science. I put my doctor hat on to scour the current research for the most evidence-based science we need to know about food and Alzheimer’s. I channel my culinary experience to create beautiful, crave-worthy recipes that will be a cinch for you to make at home. Together we use modern techniques and tweaks to pack brain healthy nutrient density into every bite. Over time, we build up a repertoire of recipes that are meant to be shared and enjoyed. These are the foods that will lengthen your brainspan, the number of years the brain functions at a high level.
If you love food like I do, we are going to have a lot of fun exploring a whole new world of brain healthy ingredients. (Hello chickpea flour! Hello blueberry juice!) And if you don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen, that’s ok too. My recipes are designed to help busy people eat better.
My students love how their brains perform when fed a steady diet of brain healthy foods. Many of the foods studied for dementia prevention are also being researched for their ability to enhance how our brains function now. We’ll learn which brain healthy foods can help with memory, attention, and processing speed. And which ones reduce “brain fog” — that fuzzy brain feeling that so many of my patients describe when going through menopause.
Sometimes we are faced with too many food choices. Everywhere we turn, there are divergent opinions on how best to eat — from vegan to paleo and everything in between. Nutrition can be complicated, but eating for brain health is not. Brain Works Kitchen examines the science behind how food impacts the brain. Instead of eliminating entire food groups or imposing a long list of rules regarding how we should eat, we only need to ask ourselves one question. Is it good for my brain or not?
We’re not sacrificing delicious for healthy just because it’s brain food.
My favorite thing about eating for brain health is how satisfying and delicious it is. These are the foods you’ll want to eat every day. Because what good is healthy food if you don’t want to eat it?
If you want to get started with some Brain Works Kitchen recipes, I don’t blame you. I’m getting hungry just writing about it. You could try one of my Essential Recipes — easy recipes that make up the backbone of the Brain Works Kitchen. Essential Recipes are designed to pack in as many brain healthy ingredients as possible in an easy, streamlined way. These are recipes that will easily fit into your back pocket — tried and true dishes you eventually will make by heart. Like my Brain Works Granola, an every day food in my family. Or, this Socca Chickpea Pancake (find the recipe below.) Or, the recipe that is a favorite of my cooking class students, this Chocolate Avocado Pudding. Because chocolate and avocados are definitely part of the brain healthy eating plan.
We cook, we learn, we challenge our brains.
We’ll learn why eating a handful of berries a few times a week can lengthen brain life by 2.5 years. Why a spoonful of turmeric a day is good for your brain. How to make a 5-minute breakfast porridge that checks off 4 of the brain healthy food group boxes. And why olive oil just might be the world’s most healthful elixir.
In the coming months I’ll share what I learn from luminaries in the field of brain health. We’ll talk with Dr. Martha Clare Morris, lead researcher of the MIND diet study, who found a 53% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk when people ate more brain healthy foods. We’ll visit with esteemed neurosurgeon Dr. John Tew of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Cincinnati, to hear why he cooks with patients at the hospital’s organic farm to help them achieve wellness. And we’ll pick the brain of fabulous chef and nutrition scientist Rebecca Katz, author of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, to find out what dementia-proofing ingredients she keeps in her culinary pharmacy (what she calls her kitchen cabinet.)
We all need to learn more about Alzheimer’s.
Maybe you’re not so worried about getting Alzheimer’s. After all, isn’t that a disease of old people? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but epidemiologists predict an epidemic of Alzheimer’s diagnoses in the coming decades. We are all living longer. The Baby Boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — is about to explode into older age groups in record numbers. Alzheimer’s is primed to be the biggest health issue we have ever faced.
Maybe you think about Alzheimer’s all the time — you’ve seen how it steals away someone you love. My mom has mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, an early stage of dementia. That makes me worry about my own aging brain and those of my siblings. Some of the most exciting research is examining how to help those with a family history of Alzheimer’s and dementia. And so far research indicates those with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s may benefit the most from food and lifestyle changes.
As one of my Brain Works students told me: “You’re not just giving us recipes, Annie. You are giving us hope.”
I created the Brain Works Kitchen for you — my cooking students, patients, friends, family, fellow food enthusiasts and Baby Boomers. The Brain Works Kitchen is for you to use and to share with everyone you love. Together we will learn to eat well, age well, and take good care of our brains. Together we will formulate a plan for making brainspan as long as lifespan. By creating a community of brain healthy foodies, we can join the movement to wipe out Alzheimer’s.
Because I plan to be thriving at the age of 100, and I want you all right there with me.
To get a weekly update on what’s cooking in brain health and in the Brain Works Kitchen, register here:
Follow along on Instagram @BrainWorksKitchen and tag your brain healthy creations with #BrainWorksKitchen.
Pin your favorite recipes over in the wide world of Pinterest.
Not so keen on social media? You can reach out to me via email: email@example.com.
But do keep in touch. Let me know how the recipes turn out, what you love and don’t love, and what you want to learn more about. Share what you are creating in your own Brain Works Kitchen. And I want to hear everything else you are doing to keep your brain healthy.
Thank you for being here. Together we can look forward to a delicious future free of dementia.