Boost Your Brain
by Wendy VanHatten
There’s a new recipe book…and it’s not your ordinary recipe book. It’s a science-based recipe book, The Healthy Mind, by Rebecca Katz, MS, who also the executive chef at Food as Medicine and founder of Healing Kitchens Institute in Bolinas, California. Katz says, “It used to be that scientists thought that as you grow older your brain cells die. Now, we’re actually seeing that our brain cells can regenerate—which is largely based on how we eat and exercise. If you’re eating a whole foods diet, of course you’re taking care of your body, but there are actually certain foods that are very important for the brain.”
Katz goes on to give her 11 foods we should be eating to strengthen our mental muscles right now. Here is her list:
Katz loves mint because it’s a good source of vitamin A, which can help boost learning skills and increase brain placisity, vitamin C, which is said to protect against cognitive decline, and for other, unexpected reasons.
“There are fascinating studies out there about how the scent of mint affects brain functioning,” Katz says. “In one study, the aroma of mint helped boost alertness and memory. In another, it helped test subjects perform better on basic clerical skills, such as typing and memorization. Just the scent of mint has been shown to increase alertness.”
Pumpkin seeds, AKA pepitas, deliver generous helpings of iron in addition to a mineral trio of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which Katz says has shown to delay cognitive decline. “For this reason, I call pumpkin seeds nature’s smallest antidepressant,” she says.
According to Katz, almonds may help your body fight inflammation in ways that can boost mood and slow the mental decline that comes with age, as well as raise levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is “associated with fewer down moods and less depression,” she says.
“Beets are a brain food of the first order,” Katz says. “They are high in nitrites, which have been shown to increase blood flow in parts of the brain related to executive functioning, have got lots of vitamin B9, which may aid cognitive functioning and delay a descent into dementia, and are rich in carotenoids, which may help boost brain functioning and stave off depression.”
“Cashews are a great source of two brain-boosting minerals, zinc and magnesium,” Katz explains. “Zinc is important because low levels of the mineral are associated with depression, and it may improve memory as well, while magnesium has been shown to help better regulate sleeping patterns and may improve learning skills.”
Cashews also contain the B vitamin thiamin, which Katz says has been linked to more mental energy and better moods in women, plus vitamin E, which in low levels is linked to poor cognition.
“Cinnamon delivers some anti-inflammatory benefits, which may well boost overall brain functioning,” Katz explains. “It also unleashes in the brain some special proteins called neurotrophic factors, which can help the brain generate new neurons and keep old ones healthy.”
Similar to mint, researchers found that the aroma of cinnamon can improve memory and focus on cognitive tests, says Katz, so don’t forget to sprinkle a little on your coffee in the morning.
“The cocoa that gives dark chocolate its haunting, addictive flavor is loaded with the memory-boosting antioxidant power of flavonoids,” Katz says. “In two recent studies, cocoa consumption has been linked to higher scores on cognitive tests. Dark chocolate is also a boon to the cardiovascular system, and a healthy heart helps keep the brain sharp.”
Be warned, though: Katz says that milk seems to interfere with the body’s ability to access the power of flavonoids, so these benefits don’t apply to milk chocolate, and it might even be best to steer clear of milk while you’re enjoying dark chocolate.
“Many women can experience a loss of mental sharpness as they get into middle age, but ginger has been shown to help keep that from happening,” Katz says. “Another study on postmenopausal women showed ginger boosting memory skills and ability to focus.”
Cauliflower, full of Vitamin K and good for detoxification, Sardines, with their B12 and ability to ward off depression, and Lentils, full of brain friendly B vitamin folate, thiamin, and B6 complete the group.