Foods for a Beautiful Brain

beau·ti·ful/ˈbyo͞otəfəl/

  1. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.
  2. Of a very high standard; excellent.                                        —Dictionary.com

Based on our recent discussion, many of us value our inner-beauty over external, but agree that both are important. Well guess what. Eating well promotes both in our brains. Consider this example:

A growing body of research shows that a healthy dietary lifestyle guards against Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and cognitive decline, while boosting overall mental sharpness—in some cases, immediately. (Woo hoo, right???)

To increase your odds of sharp, long-lasting brain function, eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. When you indulge in sweets, fried foods or other low-nutrient fare, enjoy it and practice moderation. As I suggested in my Dodge Dieting post, the 80/20 rule works well—aiming for about 80 percent nutritious foods and 20 percent “play” foods.

Ten Brain-Boosting Super Stars:
Fortunately, there are loads of brain-beautifying foods. Here are some of my favorites. 😉

1. Berries Numerous studies have linked berry consumption with brain health. Berries provide valuable amounts of water and fiber, both of which promote positive energy levels between meals, and potent antioxidants, which support strong immune and brain function. Tip: Stock up on whatever berries are in season and keep unsweetened frozen berries on hand year round. They make awesome additions to oatmeal, baked goods and smoothies.

2. Broccoli Broccoli appears on countless superfoods lists, and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in antioxidants and a chemical that may enhance brain healing, according to a Journal of Neuroscience report. Tip: Steam, rather than microwave or boil, broccoli to retain nutrients.

3. Leafy Greens Diets high in folate are linked with a lowered risk for cognitive decline. Leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, are high in folate. They also provide ample fiber. Tip: Buy dark, leafy greens with every shopping trip. If you fear you won’t finish them before they spoil, chop remaining leaves up and freeze them in air-tight containers for use in soups, stews, pasta dishes and more.

4. Potatoes Yes, that’s right. I said potatoes. Our beloved spuds have gained a bad reputation, both due to the way many people prepare them and the risky low-carb diet craze. But potatoes, whether russet or sweet, provide complex carbohydrates—your brain’s and body’s main fuel source. Potatoes are also rich in potassium—an electrolyte important for brain function, fiber and tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your brain create the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. (Nope, turkey isn’t the only source.) Tip: For healthy “fries,” coat sliced potato into rounds with canola or olive oil cooking spray then bake them at 350 deg. until they appear golden.

5. Popcorn As one of the most nutritious whole grains, popcorn provides valuable amounts of fiber, which helps keep our blood sugar and energy level, B-vitamins, which promote positive energy levels, and antioxidants that help stave off infections and disease. Tip: Season air-popped popcorn with natural herbs or try it dessert-style, sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and stevia or cane sugar.

6. Salmon The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, and other fatty fish, don’t simply promote more positive heart-health. They play a key role in brain function. And because our bodies can’t produce them, they way they produce other fats, we must get them through food. Consuming too few omega-3s can cause lethargy, fatigue, memory problems and depressive moods. (Blech.) Tip: The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 oz of fatty fish (about the size of a deck of cards) at least twice per week.

7. Flaxseeds Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3s. They also contain ample fiber, protein and antioxidants. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, incorporate flaxseeds into your diet. Even if you do eat fish, flaxseeds can enhance your diet. Tip: Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, like smoothies, whole grain cereal, bran muffins and yogurt. For freshness, keep ground seed in your refrigerator.

8. Green Tea Some researchers believe that moderate amounts of caffeine can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and boost mental sharpness. Green tea provides caffeine and lots of other perks, such as plentiful antioxidants. An animal study published in Biogerontology in 2006 linked daily green tea consumption with better sustained memory capabilities. Tip: Brew a pot of green tea to enjoy hot or chilled. For added flavor and nutrients, add lemon or apple slices. (YUM!) If you’re sensitive to caffeine or drink tea late in the day, opt for caffeine-free.

9. Peanut Butter While all nuts are nutritious, peanuts provide more healthy fats than most. Peanut butter is also filling, convenient and rich in satiating fiber. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that eating peanut butter five days per week does a lot to prevent heart attacks. Snacking on peanut butter, instead of other snack foods, has also been linked with better weight and appetite control. Tip: If you don’t like or tolerate peanuts, substitute almond butter, which is particularly rich in calcium.

10. Dark Chocolate (I repeat, YUM!!!) In addition to deliciousness, dark chocolate provides protective plant chemicals called flavanols. Research headed up by Ian MacDonald, a professor at the University of Nottingham, found that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to important brain areas for up to three hours. Tip: Feeling low, yet work calls? Eat several squares of dark chocolate. If you have difficulty sticking to modest portions, keep chocolate in your freezer or buy single portions.

Fabulous Foodie Fun:
Violets and Cardamom’s recipe for Oatmeal Breakfast Bars and Muffins provides a fun, tasty way to get brain-boosting nutrients from whole grains, flaxseeds and almond butter at breakfast.
Write On, Jana! brings us nutritious, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon Rolls. I’m salivating over these babies!
For more chocolate-loving fun, check out Tameri Etherton‘s Chocolate, the Language of LOVE.

Do you consider brain-health when approaching your diet? Are you a fan of these foods? Feel free to share your nutrition questions or challenges. I LOVE hearing from you and am eager to offer support.