Nutrition

Food for Thought: Healthiest Brain Food

Registered Dietician Will Goodness provides advice on tailoring your diet to benefit your brain.

Mar. 15, 2021 4   min read

Your brain is amazing. It keeps you breathing, controls your growth and balance, and helps you to process the world around you. It works hard – the brain processes over 70,000 thoughts every day, so it’s important to keep it healthy. By incorporating certain foods into your regular diet, you can give your brain a boost, support memory building, and improve overall cognitive function.

Registered dietitian Will Goodness discusses the most important foods for your brain and provides a few delicious ways you can work them into your diet.

Foods that support brain health

Walnuts

These nuts contain nutrients that can benefit the brain like healthy fats and antioxidants. When eaten as part of a balanced diet, walnuts have the ability to improve overall cognitive function.

Berries

Incorporating berries into your diet can benefit your health in a variety of ways and can reduce inflammation that leads to brain aging.

“Berries have anthocyanidins—the part of the fruit that gives it color—that have been shown to benefit several aspects of health, including memory,” said Goodness.

Blueberries are especially good for your brain, as they contain some antioxidants that have been found to improve brain cell communication. 

Leafy Greens

When consumed regularly, leafy greens like spinach and kale, can help improve memory and provide an assortment of other nutrients.

Results from a 2018 study demonstrated that green, leafy vegetables, when eaten one serving every day, significantly reduced memory loss and preserved cognitive function. 

Fatty Seafood

Seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, sardines, and trout, have significant benefits to brain function.

“Omega-3 fatty acid is paramount to brain health and may even prevent the onset of dementia. I recommend incorporating two 4oz servings of fatty fish into your diet each week,” said Goodness. “If you don’t like fish, consider taking supplements, like fish oil, that provide at least 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acid.”

Limit saturated fat

While adding certain foods to your diet can be helpful to your brain, limiting others can do the same. High intake of saturated fat can increase bad (LDL) cholesterol, which can lead to the formation of harmful plaque in the brain, resulting in damage to brain cells.

“Damage from this type of plaque, beta-amyloid plaque, is linked with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Try eating mostly lean meats and use ingredients such as butter, cream, and cheese products in moderation.”

Three healthy brain recipes

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy foods packed with flavor! Here are three healthy recipes packed with brain-food to help improve cognitive function, and avoid memory loss.

Salmon Salad

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large cans of red or pink salmon, drained and lightly rinsed
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • Zest of one lemon (optional to garnish)

Instructions:

  1. In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together mayonnaise, Dijon, paprika, cayenne, and lemon juice.
  2. Gently fold in salmon, onion, celery, chives, and dill gently turning mixture to evenly coat in dressing.
  3. Transfer salad to a serving bowl and garnish with lemon zest or fresh herb of your choice.
  4. Serve on whole-wheat crackers with sliced avocado.

“The key ingredient here is salmon—a food rich in omega-3 fatty acid, salmon is great for your brain,” says Goodness. 


Spinach Salad

Salad Ingredients:

  • 2 large handfuls fresh spinach, washed
  • 2 large handfuls fresh spring mix lettuce, washed
  • ½ small red onion sliced to thin strips
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, washed
  • 1 cup candied walnuts
  • ¼ cup Lemon Poppy Seed Vinaigrette 

Lemon Poppy Seed Vinaigrette Ingredients (makes 1 cup):

  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 1-2 lemons worth)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • ½ cup olive or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Salad Instructions:

  1. Gently toss together spinach, spring mix, and sliced red onion arranging attractively in a large salad bowl.
  2. Sprinkle greens with fresh blueberries and candied nuts.
  3. Drizzle with lemon poppy seed vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Vinaigrette Instructions:

  1. In a medium sized bowl of food processor combine lemon juice, Dijon, and honey.
  2. Whisk or process together continuously while slowly adding in the oil until all oil is incorporated and dressing begins to take on a lighter, creamy complexion.
  3. When dressing is fully emulsified gently stir in poppy seeds.
  4. Use dressing immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight jar for up to one week.

“The leafy greens, walnuts, and fresh blueberries in this recipe are all highly beneficial to brain function.” 

Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unsweetened low-fat yogurt

Fruit Compote Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen blue berries
  • ½ cup frozen cherries (pitted)
  • 2 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Granola Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup walnuts (halved or chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup canola or avocado oil

Fruit Compote Instructions:

  1. Place a medium sized sauce pan over medium high heat. Add frozen fruit and honey.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to medium to continue simmering.
  3. Let simmer until mixture has reduced by half, stirring occasionally and softly breaking apart fruit (about 5-10 minutes)
  4. When reduced and slightly thickened remove compote from the stove, stir in balsamic vinegar, transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Granola Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, walnuts, and spices.
  3. Pour in oil and maple syrup and toss with oat mixture until all oats and nuts are evenly coated.
  4. Spread granola out to an even layer across the prepared baking sheet and place in pre-heated oven.
  5. Remove granola after 8 minutes and stir before returning to the oven to finish cooking for an additional 8 minutes (16 minute total cook time)
  6. When finished cooking remove granola and let cool on the sheet tray for at least 20-30 minutes.
  7. When cool break apart granola with hands and store in an air tight container for 1-2 weeks.

Parfait Final Assembly:

  1. Divide yogurt between 8 small bowls or parfait cups (½ cup yogurt each)
  2. Top each parfait with 2 tablespoons of fruit compote and 1⁄3 cup spiced walnut granola.

“This recipe incorporates walnuts and berries; two basic foods that support brain health. This simple parfait makes for a great way to start your day or a quick afternoon snack,” says Goodness.

 

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