Brain Foods that Supply Essential Nutrients #1 ~ Protein!

brain health healthy eating healthy living healthy recipes real food resilience sugarfree Mar 11, 2022

Last week I talked about the Top 7 Strategies to Curb Sugar Cravings (LINK HERE), and it’s no surprise that reducing refined sugar and carbs is a key strategy to saving your brain!  

Even better, by following these strategies you will actually support the health and function of your brain, and begin to limit the chance of cognitive decline.

How do we do that?  Let’s look more closely at some of the strategies and how we can incorporate them into our daily lives.

As we enter and enjoy the Wisdom Years, and as we feel our bodies and minds starting to exhibit some of the worrisome characteristics of aging, we start to pay more attention to ways we can stop this downhill slide!

One of the Key Principles to putting on the brakes of this slide is to Eat Natural, Whole Foods that are rich in the many nutrients that will help our minds and bodies stay healthy — and in some cases even turn back the clock!!

Read on for the Brain Foods to include and a delicious recipe to put this knowledge into action!

SO HOW CAN YOU SAVE and protect YOUR BRAIN?

When it comes to keeping our brains sharp and productive, and to avoid conditions like “brain fog” and forgetfulness, a variety of nutritious, whole foods are the best way to provide all the building blocks needed to grow and maintain a healthy brain.

Brain foods are those rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. They nourish both the body and the mind and help boost energy levels. The best brain foods help create healthy brain cells and produce biochemicals like neurotransmitters and hormones that help us function optimally–everything from understanding and processing new information, to safeguarding memory and concentration.

THIS WEEK'S STRATEGY: Include CLEAN PROTEIN at every meal and snack. 

Wean yourself off dairy or use only occasionally as a treat, and only as tolerated (i.e.goat cheese, instead of cow).  Protein is an essential macronutrient, and is the main component used to build tissues of our body.  Proteins are broken down into amino acids during digestion, which are then absorbed, and then recombined to make new proteins to serve a variety of essential functions in the body: muscles, skin, bones, hormones, enzymes.  Proteins are essential for growth and repair and play a starring role in virtually all biological processes in the body.

What are Clean Proteins?   

The first thing to remember is: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, EATS!

If you are an omnivore (meat eater) make sure you select animals raised without antibiotics or hormones, in humane conditions, rather than CAFO operations (confined animal feeding operations, which are massive with inhumane conditions), preferably organic, and grass-fed–which is known as species appropriate, rather than grains like corn which is NOT what animals evolved to eat!

You can avoid factory-farmed meat, dairy, and eggs by shopping at farmers markets or buying directly from small family farms. Ask the farmers how their animals are raised and whether you can visit the farm.  If you shop at a supermarket or local butcher, ask the manager to stock food from pasture-raised or free-range animals and products certified to meet higher animal welfare standards. 

And beware of the claim “natural,” which has no relevance to how the animals were treated.

How much?  The average person probably needs half his or her body weight in grams of protein a day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you need at least around 75 grams of protein a day if you’re trying to burn fat and build muscle the right way.  And we need more if we are active or as we age!

Looking for vegetarian sources?  The best options here are once again natural, whole food sources, with as little processing as possible, so that you get all the nutritional benefits of foods in their freshest, most natural (or very close-to-natural) state.  If you are choosing not to eat animals, just know that it is important to plan ahead to ensure you get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12, which people on an omnivorous diet get from animal products.

Some examples: nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs and dairy unless you are vegan.  Note that soaking your nuts and legumes helps to break down much of the phytic acid (which many humans have trouble digesting as we don’t have the enzyme to do so) and make the nutrients more available to the body.  Also note that a popular vegetarian protein source is any form of soy, however you want to make sure that it is organic to avoid GMOs and best if fermented like tempeh or miso.

And what about “Plant-based” Meats?  Unfortunately these are highly processed with many added chemicals and while the idea sounds appealing, the nutritional benefits are lacking, and the actual ingredients may be less than desirable: Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavours, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Pomegranate Fruit Powder, Beet Juice Extract (for colour).

Examples of Clean Proteins:

Salmon & other Fatty Fish: When it comes to brain-boosting foods, omega-3–rich fatty fish is the star of the show—and for good reason. Fish such as trout, salmon, and sardines contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which will help keep your brain running smoothly — goodbye, brain fog — and improve memory.

It turns out omega-3 fatty acids are so closely linked to brain health that scientists think fish consumption may be part of the reason early humans were able to develop such big brains! Researchers have found that omega 3s protect the brain and may be able to treat a variety of different brain conditions.

Please note that these benefits are for Alaskan wild-caught salmon — unfortunately, farm-raised and regular wild-caught fish can be filled with mercury and toxins.

Eggs: Eggs are sometimes called a “complete” protein, because they include all the different essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) that we need to eat, since our bodies don’t manufacture them.

Unfortunately eggs were also believed for many years to be unhealthy, especially for those with high cholesterol. It turns out that there is very little correlation between consuming eggs and blood cholesterol levels.

Eggs are rich in B vitamins which help to slow cognitive decline and deficiencies in B vitamins have been associated with depression and dementia. Eggs are also a great source of one key nutrient for healthy brains: choline. The body uses choline to create the neurotransmitters responsible for mood and memory. Plus, it helps the brain create and release acetylcholine, which is crucial to memory. Acetylcholine tends to be lower in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Walnuts, Pumpkin seeds & Other Nuts & Seeds

Have you ever noticed that you can guess which part of the body a food will benefit by noticing how that food looks? Does the walnut not look a lot like a brain? It turns out that walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids to further improve brain function.

And along with other nuts, such as almonds, pistachios or cashews, they also have high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which can help improve mental alertness. Plus the vitamin E found in these nuts may also help protect brain cells and ward off Alzheimer’s. In fact, nuts have been linked to improved cognition, sharper memory, and slower mental decline.

Along with nuts, seeds are also great sources of healthy fats and other brain-friendly nutrients. For example, pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants, as well as zinc, magnesium, copper, and iron. The brain uses zinc for nerve signalling, magnesium for learning and memory, copper for controlling nerve signals, and iron to prevent brain fog.

These nutrient-packed brain foods fight disease and protect brain cells by providing antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which can aid in memory, concentration, positive mood and a better “gut-brain-connection.” They may also reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression and other mental health conditions — plus most brain foods support your immune and digestive systems too, benefiting the overall health of your body and mind — a win-win!

Recipe: Baked Salmon and Veggies

2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 Sweet Potato (small, cut into cubes)
  • 2 cups Broccoli (cut into florets)
  • 1½ tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (divided)
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder (divided)
  • 1 tbsp Parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 10 oz. Salmon Fillet
  • ¼ tsp Sea Salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Add the sweet potato and broccoli to the pan and drizzle with 1 tbsp of the oil and season with 1 tsp of garlic powder. Stir to evenly coat the vegetables and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the remaining oil, lemon juice, garlic powder and parsley.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven. Stir the vegetables and make room for the salmon in the centre of the pan.
  5. Place the salmon on the pan and spoon the lemon garlic sauce over top of the fillets. 
  6. Continue to bake for 15 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.  Season with sea salt as desired.
  7. Divide between plates and enjoy!

Notes and Options:

  • Make it Vegan by substituting tempeh for the salmon.
  • Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.
  • Use other fresh herbs like chives or basil, and top with fresh herbs or lemon wedges.
  • Substitute cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, zucchini, or bell pepper for the broccoli.
  • Substitute another starchy vegetable or whole grain like brown rice or quinoa for the sweet potatoes.

For more info on this and other natural health topics:

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