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Try these “brain healthy” foods in your next meal to help relieve stress

Alexandra Carl | Brain health

Alexandra Carl is an intern at The Learning Corp and studies Psychology at Northeastern University. Her studies and work experience have focused on social psychology and life science, fostering a deep admiration for the brain-body connection. 

We are all feeling more stressed these days – trying to figure out how to balance time spent at home while still trying to connect with loved ones, keeping up with the news, AND keeping a calm mental space. It’s hard! To help, consider a pastime that inspires creativity and togetherness: cooking! And try cooking with foods that science has found are “brain-healthy”. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Home cooking is something so integrated into our daily routine that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it is innately creative (read: good for our brains!). And this mental stimulation is just the beginning of the benefits that cooking brings. Whether you feel connected to others during the process itself, or around the table (or via video conference!) afterward, allow the power of a good meal to strengthen your bonds, as well as your body and mind. 

Try cooking with foods that are high on the brain-healthy list

Many foods have been scientifically shown to be extra good for our brains. Because your brain works tirelessly to navigate the peaks and valleys of the daily stress of these COVID-19 times, offer it some restoration with these “brain-healthy” focused meals. While all healthy recipes fuel your body, your brain thrives on specific nourishment. Nuts and seeds, whole grains, berries, oily fish, and leafy vegetables are just some of the foods shown to have brain health benefits.

In this article, I’ve focused on meal options that I like which include ingredients known for providing key nutrients to healthy brain function. I hope you enjoy them too! What healthy foods do you like to eat? Let me know in the comments below.

Breakfast: Whole grain oatmeal with berries

Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. The first meal you consume kick-starts your metabolism, a process that ensures all systems are running smoothly. So how can we give our brain a little extra love at breakfast? 

Try incorporating a whole grain base, like oatmeal. Whole grains are a good source of the antioxidant Vitamin E, which protects your cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the natural erosion of cells that occurs over time. Therefore, eating foods that are high in antioxidants helps support healthy brain tissue. Sprinkling some berries on top of your oatmeal is a great way to double down on that antioxidant punch! Also, berries have shown to decrease inflammation, which allows the tissue throughout your body and brain to function at optimal levels. 

Bring it together  

With the oatmeal and berries as a foundation, make it your own! I like to “spice it up” with a sprinkle of brown sugar or cinnamon. Or add a splash of milk (dairy or nut-based). Mix and match the toppings and the base to give everyone around the table a taste that fits their pallet.  

Recipe suggestion:

Lunch: Whole wheat toast topped with avocado and sliced hard-boiled eggs

Many of us are now working from home, and the midday hump has taken on a new intensity – after all, you’re now just seconds from away from your comfy chair or bed (!) The best antidote I find? An energy-packed lunch that incorporates food to keep your brain sharp, and running on all cylinders. 

In choosing whole-wheat toast, you add an antioxidant-rich foundation to your meal. Avocado is a source of healthful unsaturated fat or what is referred to as the “good” kind of fat. Research shows that eating unsaturated fat sources helps reduce blood pressure. It also indicates that high blood pressure may be a risk factor of cognitive decline. Therefore, fueling with foods like avocado may help maintain cognitive function in the long term. Eggs are quality sources of Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12, both of which help ensure that proteins in your blood do not clot or cause damage to your blood vessels. Good blood flow is important for strong cognitive function. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, or any other garnish, and enjoy! 

Bring it together

Once your eggs are hard boiled, have a friendly family feud to see if you can peel the shells off without nicking the soft egg-white.

Recipe Suggestion: 

Dinner: Salmon with broccoli, kale, and brown rice

As the day comes to a close, it is important to eat a meal that feels satisfying. By eating something that provides good sources of fat, carbohydrates, and proteins alike, your tummy will thank you; and with this meal suggestion, so will your brain. 

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s assist in strengthening your cell membranes, therefore helping to improve the structure of your brain cells. There is evidence to show that these fatty acids increase blood flow, which as stated earlier, is important in boosting cognitive function. Pairing your fish with a side of whole-grain rice is a great way to incorporate antioxidants into this meal. To pack an extra superfood punch, add broccoli and kale as another side dish. These vegetables also have antioxidant properties.  

Bring it together

With dinner being the last full meal of the day, it offers a great opportunity for reflection. List three things from your day that inspired gratitude, and share those gratitudes with the people gathered at your table or over a video-conference.

Recipe Suggestion:

Overall, stay mindful of the foods you eat

This article was designed not just to foster inspiration by offering meal suggestions, but also to increase awareness that food has a powerful effect on our brain and body! As demonstrated above, food can have beneficial qualities, so stay mindful of what you take in. Like everything we do, what we eat has “downstream consequences”, so seek to prioritize foods that can offer safeguards to your cells, your body, and your brain. 

PLEASE NOTE: this article is not meant to replace advice from medical professionals. Please consult your own doctor or healthcare provider for meal suggestions that work for you. Nor does The Learning Corp endorse or receive any benefit from any of the recipe sources listed here. These suggestions are simply what I have found to be helpful myself as I navigate these more stressful times.

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