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Whether you’re heading back to classes or to work after a vacation, you might need a brain boost. Instead of overdosing on coffee or jittery energy drinks, here are some fresh foods to help keep your brain in top shape.
1) Spinach & Other Leafy Greens
Green leafy veggies — spinach, kale, arugula, romaine lettuce and Swiss chard — are packed with vitamins A, C, calcium, iron and many disease-battling phytochemicals. According to a recent study, men and women who chow down on 3 servings of these vegetables daily show better long-term mental acuity than those with a single serving or less (a serving is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked). Their healthier brains functioned as well as someone 5 years younger!
GET SOME: Salads and sandwiches are easy options. Wilt handfuls into pasta or rice dishes or add them to an omelet. For a simple side, saute hardy greens like kale and chard with olive oil, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon juice.
Eggs are a top source for good-for-you protein and their yolks contain some iron and heart-friendly omega-3 fats. They also sport two powerful antioxidants: lutein, which benefits eyesight (something you might need after staring at a computer), and choline, which plays an important role in your brain’s development, nerve transmission and memory.
GET SOME: Make a quiche or frittata for dinner or grab a hard-boiled egg as an evening snack — it’ll satisfy any late-night urges and the extra protein will make you feel fuller longer.
There aren’t too many things wrong with salmon. It’s tasty, low in mercury, often a sustainable choice and high in protein and omega-3 fats. Those fats, especially “DHA” (the kind found in fish), are vital for boosting brain development, improving function and decreasing inflammation.
GET SOME: To keep it simple, grill or roast salmon and add it to a salad (a double brain whammy with the leafy greens). Or get more adventurous with salmon burgers or breaded and baked fish sticks.
Take your pick — raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and even cherries. Some research supports a connection between berries’ antioxidants and improving short-term memory (a must-have in college during exam time). There’s nothing conclusive yet, but taking advantage won’t hurt — especially while they’re in season now.
GET SOME: Skip the chips and nibble on these when you’re up late working. Drop a handful of berries into oatmeal, cold cereal, yogurt, smoothies and salads for a smart start.
Breakfast is a very important meal; without the fuel it provides, your brain and metabolism can’t get going and you’ll feel sluggish all day. Oatmeal is a quick pick, easily flavored and filled with whole grains. The healthy carbohydrates from oatmeal (and other whole grains) are our brain’s primary energy source – plain and simple, no carbs equals no brainpower!
GET SOME: Doctor up plain instant oatmeal with fruit, maple syrup or honey. Or make a large batch the night before and store in the fridge — a quick zap in the microwave and it’s ready!
Women who eat more cruciferous veggies — like broccoli and cauliflower — show slower mental decline as the years tick by, according to research. Better still, they are full of fiber and vitamins C and E.
GET SOME: Raw with some low-fat dip or hummus is easy. Try steaming or stir-frying to bring out the flavor; the quick cooking, meanwhile, preserves the nutrients. For a sweet, nutty flavor, roast pieces in a 400-degree oven.
Brain Zappers to Avoid
High-fat packaged snacks, fried foods and other calorie-laden choices (late-night pizza run, anyone?) are tempting, but these foods will only fill you up (too much) and slow you down. You’ll feel sleepy, especially if you indulge towards the end of the day. In fact, a new study suggests that fatty foods can bog down your short-term memory — no good if you’re in the middle of exams or a big project.
The old butter verses margarine controversy is back in the spotlight. With many folks favoring wholesome, natural foods, margarine has now taken a backseat to butter. But can this full fat delight be part of a healthy diet?