In freshman PE class at Mount Saint Mary High School in 1983, Sister Jean told us that drinking alcohol kills brain cells. That got my attention and stuck with me, undoubtedly influencing my future decisions. Even then, I considered my brain one of my most valuable assets and wanted no part of killing my brain cells! While the acute brain damage caused by consumption of alcohol is more a matter of disruption of communication between neurons, alcohol is a neurotoxin. Just as what we take into our bodies can harm our brains, there are foods we can consume to nurture brain health.
Ever since I was young, I have been interested in fueling my brain for short- and long-term health and optimal function. Between my recent reading of Jim Kwik’s book Limitless and thinking about the fuel our brains consume for the blog post I wrote last week, brain nourishment has been on my mind even more than usual.
I thought it might be beneficial to share some of my favorite foods for nourishing my brain. While not an exhaustive list, here are five great foods to eat for brain health:
- Berries contain powerful antioxidants that protect the brain from damage and reduce inflammation, which can protect brain function as we age. This is important because of the amount of glucose that our brains use, which produces a lot of free radicals, creating the potential for damage to our cells, including neurons. Eat fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and cherries in smoothies, with oatmeal or another whole-grain cereal or even as a delicious frozen treat using a Yonanas machine.
- Avocados, full of monounsaturated fats and lutein, are not only great brain food, but also promote eye health. (And who doesn’t love guacamole?!) In addition to turning them into guacamole, slice raw avocados and enjoy them in salad or on sandwiches or wraps. Mash them on whole-grain toast for avocado toast, plain or with raw veggies and/or fresh herbs.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables, (kale, spinach, broccoli, chard, arugula, collard, etc.) also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, benefitting both brain and eyes and possibly delaying or warding off age-related cognitive decline. These can be eaten raw or cooked, in smoothies, as salad, toppings for wraps or sandwiches, as side dishes or in this terrific lasagna recipe. (It really is great—one of my go-to recipes for special occasions.)
- Turmeric has potent anticancer benefits and can reduce inflammation. It has been shown to improve cognitive function in people living with Alzheimer’s. Put ¼ teaspoon in your smoothie or on your cereal every day. Include turmeric in pasta sauces, casseroles, soups and curries.
- Walnuts are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc, all valuable nutrients for brain health. Eat walnuts raw, by themselves or with fresh or dried fruit. Blend them into smoothies. Put them on cereal and in salads.
There are so many great ways to incorporate these foods into your daily diet. You could even make a smoothie containing all of them. (more on smoothies in an upcoming post)
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