The Smartest Diet for Your Brain

It starts with the “p” word — and that would be “plants.”

A flood of new and surprising research is emerging about the role that plants play in brain health. For example, a study on the MIND diet — a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets — published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association in June 2015 — concluded that people who eat more dark, leafy greens at least once a day have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD). Bingo!

Here I am on my soapbox again, talking to you about the importance of plants — for a reason! Whether it’s cancer, longevity, brain health or heart health, you’re going to find that the optimal diet has a lot of the color green in it. Why?

Dark, cruciferous vegetables contain a tremendous amount of B vitamins, vitamin K and folate — especially folate, which is specifically linked with better mental functioning and, as we get older, the prevention of dementia.

It has to do with free radicals.

Free radicals are a normal by-product of the body's metabolism of oxygen. In moderation they serve positive functions, such as helping the immune system fight off disease. But too many free radicals can wreak havoc in cells, starting a chain reaction called oxidation, implicated in the spread of cancer, the effects of aging (wrinkles and cell death), cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s.

How do plants help? Imagine looking at your living room and seeing dust bunnies clustered under cabinets and chairs. It happens to the best of us! We accumulate them just from living. In a similar way, we accumulate free radicals in our brains, just from being out in the world. Here’s where cruciferous vegetables come to our aid! They act like vacuum cleaners, sucking up the free radicals, those trouble-makers! It’s all about taking care of your beautiful brain.

Type in “food and brain” into the National Library of Medicine’s encyclopedic database and you come up with over 32,000 peer-reviewed studies — nearly half published in the past 10 years. And we’ve only just begun to grasp how food influences the brain, changing not only how we think, but how we feel, learn, respond to stress, improve our memories, and even how we breath.

So, how best to feed our brains?

It’s SO easy to incorporate plants into your world, and it’s not the LEAST bit boring!

Here are some stand-out, brain-healthy options from my Recipe Box.

Coconut Ginger Lime Kale - Brain food that is seriously YUM! The coconut provides good, lovely fat, that the body knows how to metabolize, and totally blankets the kale, masking its bitterness. And the lime! Mmmmm.

Clean Green Soup - New in the Recipe Box! - a blended soup that’s so lusciously green, you’ll swear you’re eating emeralds :)

Shrimp-Stuffed Avocados 2.0. Avocados are loaded with fiber and good fat and shrimp is super high in B12.

Minted Guacamole with Pomegranate Seeds. Avocado at its most creamy delicious, plus mint, a star among brain-power herbs!

More everyday ideas:

  • Roast a tray of broccoli or cauliflower or combine two vegetables like broccoli and red pepper, finishing with some basil for a fabulous flavor triad.
  • Toast pumpkin seeds and add to salads or stir fries. Pumpkin seeds pack a brain-healthy PUNCH. They’re especially rich in zinc, credited with helping improve our memories and keep depression at bay.
  • Stir-fry it!  When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I just take out every vegetable I have left in my refrigerator and stir-fry it.
  • Garnish with animal-based proteins. Don’t cover your plate! Just decorate. And go for free-range, grass-fed options.   
  • Eat greens at least 4x a week. Arugula in a salad counts! Chiffonade some kale, mint, parsley or basil into salad, too, to vary the texture and provide a flavor and nutrition pop.
  • Include healthy fats like olives and olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.
  • Make a rainbow, including vegetables that are dark in pigment — green, purple, orange.
  • Spice it up! Add turmeric, curry, mint, basil and ginger to your stir-fries, soups and smoothies — anti-inflammatory and good for our brains.

I think of it as a game… How many veggies can I possibly incorporate? In fact, that’s how I build my recipes.

Explore and learn more!

Watch my short videos and get really smart about the brain and healthy brain foods!

Listen to my interview on the Organic Conversation podcast, Brain Food: The Smartest Diet for Your Mind, 7/20/2015. Can the things we eat influence what or how well we think? What foods support mood, memory, mental clarity and brain health?

Enjoy this feature, 11 Surprising, Delicious Foods That Boost Brain Power - Best Foods for Your Brain, from Harper's Bazaar, 7/31/2015.

And of course, pick up a copy of The Healthy Mind Cookbook, with elegant, flavor-packed recipes and a whole culinary pharmacy of brain healthy foods to help make your table a feast for the eye, palette… and mind!

COMMENT BELOW AND TELL ME: WHAT DELICIOUS  DISHES ARE YOU MAKING FROM THE HEALTHY MIND COOKBOOK? WHAT BRAIN-HEALTHY FOODS ARE YOUR FAVES? WHAT ARE YOUR QUESTIONS? (YOU KNOW I LOVE QUESTIONS!)