It is always nice when you find out that foods you enjoy have special health boosting properties. There are quite a number of them that can enhance mood, memory or slow cognitive decline for a variety of reasons. Here are a few easy ones to include in your diet.
- Almonds – help in a few different ways. They may help to boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is low in depression and insomnia. They also help to counter inflammation in ways that help to boost mood and also slow brain decline with age. There are a number of ways to enjoy almonds including eating them as a snack. Almond nutbutter is good as a replacement for peanut butter, but is also good in many recipes for snack bars or balls. Almond flour can be used in baking. Most commercial almond milks do not retain much of the original almond, but homemade almond milk is delicious and nutritious.
- Blueberries – All berries are good for brain function, but blueberries are the king of them all because they are high in two phytochemicals (anthocyanins and proanthocyanins) known for their protective effect on the brain and cells of the nervous system. About ½ cup per day is considered optimum. You can add them to smoothies, or cereals, or enjoy with a bit of whipped cream or cashew cream.
- Beets – Blood flow to the brain is critical for both memory, clear thinking and good mood, and beets deliver that blood flow because of the nitrites they contain. Not everybody (me included) likes the taste of beets, but there are ways to overcome this, although it can take some work. Raw beet juice is pretty good mixed with other vegetable juices. I personally have a dehydrator and I make seasoned beet chips which makes them a lot more palatable, and in this way I can have a few slices a day. Some people like fermented beets which some stores such as MOMs sells.
- Cherries – Cherries are unique in that they contain the sleep hormone melatonin. Research has shown that cherry consumption can help to improve both the length and quality of sleep. When they are not in season, dried tart or Bing cherries can be used as a topping for oatmeal or other hot cereals, or as a snack combined with nuts or seeds. When I make oatmeal at home, I put the dried cherries in the pot with the oatmeal and this softens and plumps them up.
- Dark Chocolate – research has backed up the health promoting effects of dark chocolate. It contains unique flavonoids that are powerful antioxidants. Chocolate consumption has been linked to better cognitive function, heart health and longevity. It is also a good source of a mineral that is absolutely necessary for brain chemistry to work properly – magnesium. Stick to chocolate that is 70% or higher cocoa. Milk can inhibit this effect, so limit consumption of milk at the same time you are eating your chocolate.
- Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) – are mineral rich, in the very minerals which tend to be low in the Western diet. Iron, zinc and magnesium are all needed for healthy brain chemistry, and pumpkin seeds contain a good amount of them all, in addition to potassium and calcium. In studies pumpkin seeds have been associated with good mood and improved cognitive function. You can eat them raw or roasted, or as part of snack bars. I get the tamari roasted and keep them in the glove compartment of my car, for an on the go pick me up.
- Walnuts – These look like little brains which can help you member that they are good for your brain. Walnuts are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and several minerals including magnesium. They also contain some of the B vitamins that are really important for brain chemistry including thiamine and B6. Walnuts can be enjoyed raw or roasted, and you can also make a delicious nut milk with them.
As you can see, most of these require no cooking or little preparation so they can be easily added to your regular diet. They also combine together well into various snacks or meals. For example oatmeal with either fresh blueberries or dried cherries and some roasted walnuts on top. Or dark chocolate with almonds.