We’ve all had those days when our brains feel foggy: when we can’t focus and our memory is less-than sharp. And chances are, you’ve resorted to extra caffeine and a sugary snack in an effort to jolt your brain back into full function. But what if you could consume something that’s actually healthy for your brain instead?
That’s the idea behind numerous supplements, foods and drinks that contain nootropics, substances purported to improve cognition. Nootropic cocktails may contain any number of things including B vitamins, L-theanine, niacin, as well as various herbs and amino acids. But despite the growing popularity of these brain boosters, there is little scientific evidence to back up most of their claims. “I love the idea of boosting brain power, but show me any science that a supplement is better than movement, meditation and nutrient-dense brain food when it comes to mental health,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Columbia University and author of Eat Complete (Harper Collins, 2016).
According to Ramsey, boosting brain power is actually pretty simple. He even made a little rhyme about the key brain foods to make it easy to remember: “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans.” Eating more of those core foods can go a long way toward keeping your brain healthy—and a healthy brain works better. Important nutrients for feeding your brain include omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, iron, choline, lycopene, vitamin E and carotenoids. It’s not about a specific food or magic bullet supplement, but rather categories of healthy foods that provide high levels of these proven brain-boosting nutrients. “Our brains consume 20 percent of everything we eat,” says Ramsey. “This nourishment provides energy and nutrients to create and sustain the quadrillions of connections that construct the brain, plus the electricity that courses between those connections.” In other words: if you want a better brain, feed it better food.
Crispy Shrimp with Greens and Beans
Lovers of fried seafood take note. This crispy panfry is a healthier option than your usual deep fry. Pick your shrimp well (wild with no salt preservative) for a high-protein, iodine-rich seafood option that is appealing for kids and those new to seafood. By subbing in the greens and beans for biscuits or fries, not only do you get a major nutrition boost, but you also load up on filling fiber.
½ cup gluten-free pancake mix
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon dried herbs, such as Italian seasoning
1 pasture-raised egg
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound Swiss chard or kale, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 15.5-ounce can no-salt-added chickpeas or navy beans, rinsed well under cold running water and drained
Place the pancake mix, cheese, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and herbs on a plate and toss with your fingers to mix.
Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl.
Dip a shrimp in the beaten egg and press into the pancake mixture, then transfer to a large clean plate. Repeat with the remaining shrimp, working in batches as needed, and place in the fridge while you prepare the greens.
Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet and add the greens and garlic. Toss well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the greens have wilted. Add the beans and toss again. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Heat a separate large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the shrimp and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are crispy and cooked through. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Place the greens on four plates, dividing them equally, and top with the shrimp. Serve immediately.
Per serving: Calories 525; Fat 19 g (Saturated 3 g); Cholesterol 1 g; Sodium 461 mg; Carbohydrate 51 g; Fiber 11 g; Sugars 11 g; Protein 38 g
Recipe and photo courtesy of Drew Ramsey.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.