I never go grocery shopping when I’m hungry. People who do this tend to buy unhealthy snacks and packaged goods, rather than full, nutritious, and satisfying options.
I am very intentional about what I put in my body. So, as a nutrition psychologist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food, people often ask me what they should stock their kitchen with to keep their brain sharp and focused—at any age.
To make my grocery list easier to remember, I’ve created an acronym for BRAIN FOODS:
- B: berries and beans
- RRainbow colors for fruits and vegetables
- a: Antioxidants
- I: Include lean proteins and vegetable proteins
- n: nuts
- FHigh-fiber foods and fermented foods
- a: oils
- aOmega-rich foods
- Dr: dairy
- s: Spices
1. Berries and beans
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all excellent berry choices.
Be sure to eat ripe berries soon, as they don’t last long (even in the fridge). At times of the year when fresh, ripe berries are not available, Frozen berries are fine as long as they do not contain added sugar or other additives.
Beans, legumes, and lentils are also healthy and inexpensive sources of nutrients and vitamins. They are also very easy to prepare and can serve as a side dish or appetizer.
2. Rainbow colors of fruits and vegetables
From red cabbage to red bell peppers to green and yellow bell peppers, buying brightly colored vegetables will help broaden your taste buds and increase your brain’s array of nutrients.
The same applies to fruits. Apples, pineapples, kiwis, and citrus fruits come in a wide variety of colours. Just be careful not to overdo it on sweet fruits like grapes and mangoes.
The most important color of all is green. My favorites are the watercress, romaine, lettuce, endive, and bok choy.
Dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, as long as you stick to it additional The dark stuff that has no added sugar.
Many vitamins are essential antioxidants, and you can get them from a wide variety of food sources. If you are considering taking any kind of vitamin supplement, i recommend checking with your doctor first.
4. Include lean proteins and vegetable proteins
Lean poultry, seafood, pastured eggs and grass-fed beef are good choices to ensure you’re getting plenty of protein and the essential amino acids your brain needs to function well.
For plant-based protein sources, organic tofu, beans and lentils can be enhanced with spices for flavor.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds contain healthy omega fats and oils that help sharpen your brain. They also contain essential vitamins and minerals, such as the selenium in Brazil nuts. Seeds like flax, chia, and hemp are also ideal choices
I recommend eating about 1/4 cup or 2 ounces daily, either as a snack, or added to a salad or vegetable side dish.
Or you can throw some into a homemade granola mix that has less sugar and salt than the store-bought versions.
6. High-fiber foods and fermented foods
Fiber is important for your gut health, can help keep your weight in balance, and reduce inflammation throughout your body. Some high-fiber foods include artichoke hearts, quinoa, edamame, berries, and pears.
Fermented foods like kefir, miso, and kimchi are also good for your brain and gut because they’re a natural source of active bacteria cultures, and they’ve been shown to reduce inflammation.
While you want to avoid excess saturated fats and unhealthy oils like the kinds used for frying, you want to make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats from sources like olive oil, avocados and oily fish.
Even with healthy fats, be aware of your portion size and try not to eat too much. All fats are calorie dense.
8. Foods rich in omegas
Important brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
Plant foods like chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and flaxseeds are also rich in omega-3s.
If you eat dairy products, yogurt and kefir with probiotic cultures can do wonders for your gut, thanks to all the beneficial bacteria and proteins they contain. Grass-fed dairy products are better options for your brain, too.
Remember that certain terms, eg ADHD can be exacerbated by dairy, so be aware of how it affects you.
Seasoning is a calorie-free, guilt-free way to boost flavor in all of your foods while adding beneficial effects on the brain.
Specifically, spices like turmeric, black pepper, saffron, red pepper flakes, oregano, and rosemary should be part of your brain armor.
Dr. Uma Naidu He is a nutritional psychiatrist, brain expert, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. She is also the Director of Nutrition and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the best-selling author “This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods That Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More.” Follow her on Twitter @employee
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