Clear Your Mind and the Health Will Follow
Foods and Drink to Help You Think
And now for something completely different.
I know each month you look for recipes and meal suggestions in this column. But this month – with this being a health and wellness edition – and I was told there is a big focus on mental health this year, I thought I would put a different slant on this column. We have just been through two very mentally challenging years. And I know many of you (like me) probably binged on more than just Netflix since March or April of 2020. Am I right? And now, with hope that things might be looking better – the one thing we can actually make better and we have control over is our health.
While we work on our physical strength, we sometimes forget or even neglect our mental fitness – which can be sometimes just as – or more – important. We’re coming out of a completely crazy two years that no one saw coming – not even the greatest brains. So, what can we do to improve our mental focus, sharpen our minds, and improve our brain function? Well, I can’t recommend any specific physical activities or tell you how many crunches or jumping jacks to do — that is what your family practitioner or the trainer at the gym if for — but I can get your started in your kitchen.
Here are some healthy “brain” foods that have been proven or known to help increase mental clarity – you might say they are the food and drink that help us think. Try adding these into your diet and every day eating regimen – you’ll be surprised how quickly you will start to feel results.
A diet high in whole grains and fruits like avocados can cut the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow. So give that gauc a shot!
Research has shown that simple but mighty blueberries might just help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Don’t skip the first meal of the day. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat breakfast tend to perform better than those who don’t.
Broccoli is packed with powerful plant compounds, including antioxidants and vitamin K. Research has shown that older adults have linked a higher vitamin K intake to better memory and cognitive status so eat more broccoli, K?
Cocoa is not only delicious but also nutritious, providing a powerful dose of antioxidants called flavonoids. Research suggests flavonoids may help stimulate the growth of blood vessels and neurons and increase blood flow in parts of the brain involved with memory. Just watch the marshmallows!
Good news for fans of the bean! That jolt of java might actually be good for you – the caffeine can wake up the brain — although the effects are short-term.
Choose a dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher. That will help ensure it contains larger amounts of antioxidants. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.
Eggs are a good source of several nutrients tied to brain health, including vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and choline. Two national collegiate studies found that higher intakes of choline were linked to better memory and mental function.
Fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that are key for a healthy brain. A diet that includes fish has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and a slower mental decline.
Green, leafy vegetables.
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene. Research suggests these plant-based foods may help slow mental and cognitive decline.
Green and Herbals teas
As is the case with coffee, the caffeine in green tea boosts brain function. In fact, it has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory, and focus. Green tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can help reduce anxiety and aid in overall relaxation. Cup of Sleepy Time anyone? For brain boosting herbal teas, try those that have the following ingredients: sage, gingko biloba, ashwagandha, ginseng, or rhodiola.
Like broccoli, kale contains glucosinolates, and leafy greens also contain other key antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This is why many dieticians consider kale to be a superfood.
Kombucha is a fermented drink usually made from green or black tea, plus fruit or botanicals. Its major benefit lies in introducing beneficial bacteria called probiotics to your gut. Theoretically, improved gut health may boost brain function.
Natural sugar does not come in a bag or from a teaspoon. It’s glucose – the sugar your body needs and processes. It comes from fruits primarily. So drink a glass of apple, cranberry, grape, or orange. It could very well help boost short-term memory and mental ability. Cheers!
Nuts have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for the brain’s cognitive functions. They contain copper, manganese, zinc, and selenium. Eating nuts has been linked with improved moods in some studies too! Eat them by themselves or toss them into a leafy salad.
Pumpkin seeds include zinc, a nutrient that helps your metabolism and immune system. Snacking on pumpkin seeds when you need an afternoon pick-me-up can help with your memory and thinking skills.
Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called Lycopene that helps prevent free radical damage. Tomatoes are also packed with vitamin A and vitamin C.
You may be hearing a lot of Turmeric lately. This deep-yellow spice is a key ingredient in curry powder and has a number of benefits for the brain. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and improve memory and ease depression.
I know this might seem really simple but drink more water. Your brain is made mostly of water. Water acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord. It helps our brain cells use nutrients. So just a small amount of dehydration can have disastrous effects. Even mild dehydration can impair memory. So try to drink more water – the recommended amount is at least eight glasses a day.
Along with diet, make sure you are also adding more exercise, cardio activity, and getting enough sleep into your daily routine. Also try meditation and mindfulness exercises like deep belly breathing, yoga, or even taking a moment to count backwards from 20. Reduce your alcohol intake and if you smoke, consider stopping.
All of this said, again, talk to your doctor or health care provider first before making any drastic changes to your diet or lifestyle. You wouldn’t trust your doctor to tell you how to cook a soufflé so don’t trust medical advice from a chef. This is just from me – personally – to you. But maybe some of these tips and suggestions and foods can help a little bit.