There is a lot of talk about brain health happening these days.
The excitement is that we are really beginning to see connections in the way we live and what we eat and how that affects our brains. And brains are not just for thinking and problem solving – they control our moods (depression, anxiety, irritability, low patience), our energy levels, whether we can manage the stressors well in our lives, our tolerance for stimulation (noise, smells, touch, movement), our physical coordination and balance, and many many other things that absolutely affect the quality of our day to day lives. So, if you knew that certain foods create inflammation in the brain and increased our likelihood to be depressed or anxious or fatigued, would you give them up? And if you knew there were certain foods that protected your brain from inflammation and toxicity which in turn would improve your mood, would you eat them? I know I would! Simple changes in our diet can go a long way towards feeling great.
Omega-3 fats are essential for good brain health and incorporating more of them into your diet can help to improve your mood. Omega-3 fat consumption is also associated with prevention of cognitive decline. The standard american diet is chronically deficient in Omega-3 fats and way too high in Omega-6 fats (interestingly we are seeing rates of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s on the rise which may have a lot to do with how inflammatory the standard american diet is). High amounts of Omega-6 fat tips the balance towards high levels of toxicity (free radicals) in the brain which results in inflammation in the brain, which affects our mood and many other things. Increasing our intake of Omega-3 fats is the best way to address this imbalance. It is also important to know that balancing our source of Omega-3 fats from both plant and animal sources is beneficial especially as we get older because the enzymes used to convert the vegetarian sources of Omega-3s into the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA decline as we age.
Here are some of the best sources of Omega-3 fats:
Here are some ways to incorporate more healthy Omega-3 fats and improve your mood with food:
Blend 2 ripe bananas, ½ can coconut milk or 1 cup of milk of your choice, 1 cup plain kefir or plain yogurt, 2 TB almond butter, 1 TB chia seeds, 1 cup fresh or frozen berries (blueberries or raspberries recommended), and 2 cups ice. For added flavor add few drops of vanilla extract or honey to sweeten.
Try making your own Caesar salad dressing! (Minced garlic, fresh squeezed lemon, 2-3 chopped anchovies, 1 raw pastured egg yolk, extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp dried mustard, ½ cup organic shredded Romano cheese (omit for dairy free). Whisk together in large salad bowl until desired taste and consistency, then toss in chopped romaine lettuce. Top with another ½ cup shredded Romano if desired.) Delicious with fresh grilled salmon!
Try this yummy quick recipe for healthy currants and healthy fat: Mix together ½ cup coconut oil, ¼ cup coconut flour, ½ cup dried currants (or dried blueberries!), 2 TB collagen protein powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 TB maple syrup. Pour into small muffin tin for mini “muffins” and freeze for 15 minutes.
Eating for wellness is really delicious!
When we start incorporating these essential nutrients into our diets and naturally let go of convenience foods that have been highly processed and refined, we bring in more nourishment and pleasure with eating. Enjoy trying these suggestions and adapting them and making them your own! As always, I’d love to hear your discoveries in the comments whether it is yummy recipes or changes you’ve made with your brain health through diet.
For more nutritional science on brain health and recipes check out my book, "Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s: Delicious Recipes and New Research to Prevent and Slow Dementia."
The book is jam-packed with easy to read science and suggestions, as well as great everyday recipes that are for anyone wanting to improve their brain health and bring down chronic inflammation. Here’s to happy and healthy eating for happy and healthy brains!
This lightly sweet pudding, reminiscent of tapioca, makes a delicious breakfast or snack.
Superfood puddingIt is easy to prepare, though it does need to rest for several hours or over night. Chia and blueberries are both considered “superfoods” for their health benefits. Blueberries are, high in vitamins and have anti-inflammatory properties. There is promising new evidence that blueberries can improve memory and slow down or postpone the onset of cognitive problems. Blueberries are rich in antioxidant nutrients. By reducing the risk of oxidative stress in our nerve cells, it has been reported that blueberries support us in maintaining smoothly functioning nerve cells and healthy cognitive function. Chia has an abundance of Omega-3 fats as well as being high in calcium and manganese. image source
Toast almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, remove from heat and allow to cool.
Mix the coconut milk, Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, chia, vanilla and Himalayan salt. Cover and refrigerate 8–12 hours, stirring occasionally.
Mix the blueberries with the remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Stir in almonds.
ServeServe in dishes with alternating layers of chia mixture and berries.
Preparation:15 minutes plus 12 hours to set up
This lovely, bright salad is a great introduction to the peppery and lovely watercress.
Watercress is a humble, cruciferous, aquatic green leafy vegetable eaten since ancient times. Long considered food for the lower classes, it has only recently regained popularity due to its high nutritional value. Watercress provides numerous health benefits, including cancer prevention, blood pressure regulation and healthy bone support. It is rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, iron, calcium and folate. Among other benefits, an increase in folate consumption has been shown to improve cognition and verbal fluency – good news for prevention of cognitive decline!
Prepare watercress by rinsing in cold water, then removing and yellowed or limp leaves. Trim excess stems. Peel slice avocado. Finely slice sweet onion. Seed pomegranate.
Toast almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently.
Toss watercress with enough dressing to coat, stir in onion, pomegranate seeds and almonds.
Divide watercress among plates, garnish with avocado slices.
These muffins are delicious and nutritious. They make a nourishing and energy-sustaining snack food. The soluble fiber of the dates helps regulate blood sugar levels while providing a rich source of B vitamins, potassium and magnesium. The walnuts are an excellent source of antioxidants and help reduce inflammation. Walnuts are one of the highest vegetarian food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Additionally, the cinnamon not only boosts the flavor of the muffins but also has been shown to have a blood sugar lowering effect. A half-teaspoon a day of this common spice has also been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Due to the natural sweetness of the dates, the maple syrup is listed as an optional ingredient. For those who are gluten-free, try experimenting with gluten-free flours such as coconut flour. While I don’t often recommend spelt flour, once in awhile, you can incorporate a good quality spelt flour, particularly when paired with so many nutritional ingredients.
⅓ cup dates, chopped
⅓ cup walnuts
Cook quinoa according to package directions, enough to make ½ cup cooked grain. Chop dates and walnuts.
Preheat oven to 350. Prep muffin tins with liners or oil.
1 cup spelt flour or flour of choice
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cup pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
1–2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl; blend well. Pour batter evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 35–40 minutes until muffins are cooked through.
Allow to cool before enjoying.
Preparation: 10 minutes to prepare, 40 minutes to cook