5 Ways to Eat More Brain Healthy Foods Starting Today
The Brain Works Kitchen wants to get more brain healthy foods into your belly every day. Brain healthy foods? These are the foods most studied to have a positive effect on brain health. With my 5 ways to eat more brain healthy foods starting today, your brain will soon be healthier and happier. Well, at least my brain gets happy when it’s looking into a bowl of berries.
1) Eat 1/2 cup berries at least twice a week.
Berries pack a potent dose of anthocyanins — pigmented substances that give them their blue, black, purple and red color. Anthocyanin is part of the flavonoid family of antioxidants, the same compounds responsible for the health benefits of cocoa, green tea and red wine. I like to think of anthocyanins as little toothbrushes that scrub the brain of debris caused by the byproducts of metabolism, such as the free radicals that tear through the brain causing damage to neurons along the way.
That’s why berries are an important part of a brain healthy diet. The more you can flood your brain with these anthocyanin-packing fruits, the better your chance of repairing neurons as the brain ages, and delaying Alzheimer’s disease.
One study of 16,000 women age 70 and older showed that eating at least one serving of blueberries or two servings of strawberries each week delayed cognitive aging by 2.5 years. Another small yet intriguing study showed that consuming a small amount of blueberry juice every day improved memory and depression in seniors.
I stock up on berries during the summer when they are in season and less expensive. (Place clean, dry berries in one layer on a baking sheet; freeze solid and transfer to small Ziploc baggies.) Fresh or frozen are equally good for you.
2) Choose the most colorful vegetables.
It’s a no brainer that eating more veggies is good for your brain. Vegetables form the widest base of the Mediterranean diet food pyramid. The MIND diet, which showed a 53% reduction in Alzheimer’s in its study participants, recommends one serving of leafy greens and one serving of another vegetable every day. And if you follow Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen (check it out if you want to avoid getting not just Alzheimer’s but a long list of chronic diseases), there are 2 servings of greens, 2 servings of other vegetables, and 1 serving of cruciferous vegetables packed into every day.
I think we can all agree that veggies are good for the brain. But not all vegetables are created equal. Those with the most color possess the most antioxidant power — the greenest leafy greens, the reddest cabbage, the purplest cauliflower. That’s why the nutritional value of iceberg lettuce pales in comparison to that of kale. Shopping for color in the produce aisle and the farmers market is the easiest way to get more brain healthy foods into your life.
3) Give brain healthy beans a chance.
Beans are the original superfood — high in fiber and nutrients, low in calories, and able to soak up cholesterol in the blood, driving down blood sugar and insulin levels. So inexpensive, so versatile and so delicious. Three servings of beans each week is part of the MIND diet, contributing to participants’ lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
I speak as a person who was born a bean hater and became a bean lover later in life. Growing up, I never experienced a decently prepared bean dish and cultivated a bean-avoiding pattern of eating. Until the day I dipped a pita triangle into a bowl of homemade hummus, sprinkled with sumac and drizzled with peppery olive oil.
Now I love the toothsome texture and flavor of a beans cooked slowly in their own broth. I make a pot of beans every week to add to soups, spoon over bruschetta, and puree into all types of hummus — like my Essential Homemade Hummus. Make a batch of hummus at least once a week and transform your snacking into a brain healthy behavior. Need to make hummus now? Jump to the recipe here.
No time to cook up beans from scratch? Canned beans are just as nutritious; just be sure to rinse them well of excess sodium. Or invest in an Instant Pot, a life-changing kitchen appliance that cooks beans from scratch in less than 40 minutes.
4. Spiralize those brain healthy veggies.
Speaking of kitchen gadgets, have you heard about the spiralizer? A spiralizer is an inexpensive tool that turns vegetables and fruits into noodles. In the Brain Works Kitchen, we spiralize all sorts of fresh produce, turning zucchini into zoodles, butternut squash into squoodles, and sweet potatoes into spoodles.
All this spiralizing is really fun, but it’s also an easy way to increase our vegetable consumption. Spiralized veggies can replace some or all of pasta in a dish. They cook up quickly and are a launching point for endless brain healthy riffs on your favorite pastas.
Spiralized paprika-dusted sweet potato fries, anyone? Recipe coming soon.
5) Become fastidious about your olive oil.
One of the best things you could do for your brain is avoid oils full of the wrong kinds of fat. A healthy oil should have primarily monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. The brain loves oils with more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 ones. And if an oil packs a good dose of polyphenols — a potent antioxidant — consider it a huge bonus for the brain.
Hundreds of studies have shown that olive oil has beneficial actions on the blood vessels, keeping them elastic and free of atherosclerotic plaque. Keeping blood vessels healthy is an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Not all olive oil is created equal. But choosing extra virgin olive oil from a reputable producer is not an easy thing in this age of olive oil fraud and deception. (Much of the olive oil on supermarket shelves in the U.S. is pooled from multiple countries of origin, misdated, and generally not what it says on the label.) Look for extra virgin olive oil bottled at the producer (farm) with an expiration date. Olive oil is highly perishable; after one year from pressing, it starts to break down into less healthy fats.
In the Brain Works Kitchen, California Olive Ranch is my house olive oil for cooking most everything. I also collect bottles of small batch olive oils when I travel and am able to meet the producers or visit the farm.
Is coconut oil as brain healthy as olive oil?
What about coconut oil? Coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), considered to be a superior fuel for the brain. One very small study showed improved memory in seniors who ingested coconut oil every day. Animal studies show that coconut oil may help block the process that deposits amyloid in the brain. But is coconut oil better for the brain than olive oil? We need more studies on humans comparing the two oils. For now, sitting on mountains of data showing olive oil to be brain and heart healthy, I’m an olive oil purist.
WebMD has a well-balanced article about the health benefits of coconut oil: The Truth About Coconut Oil.
Want to learn more about the fascinating world of olive oil? Read Extra Virginity, The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil by Tom Mueller. For more olive oil buying tips, check out this page of his website, Truth in Olive Oil.
Hey friends, just so you know, I don’t have a business relationship with any of these brands, products, or books. But I will enthusiastically share with you any information that could help you cultivate a nourished and dementia-free brain. Enjoy!