Foods which protect brain health

Nancy Teeter, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

June is brain awareness month and it’s a good reminder that what we eat has a significant impact on systemic inflammation which in turn influences brain health. If you have not already incorporated all eight tips listed below, consider adopting one or two healthy behaviors each week. Your brain will love you for it.

Minimize ultra-processed products.

There are lots of exceptionally healthy processed foods including frozen vegetables, yogurt and canned beans but processing that strips foods of their natural goodness and adds questionable ingredients should be avoided. When you pick up a package, review the ingredients. If you can find all of them in the store and the product doesn’t contain an excessive amount of added sugar, then it is likely to be healthful in moderate amounts.

Consume six or more servings of vegetables daily.

When you make vegetables the focal point of every meal, you are more likely to meet this target. Be sure to make your choices from the full-color spectrum: dark green, bright and light.

Pump up the pulses.

Because of their health benefits, pulses—dried vegetables which include beans, chickpeas and lentils—deserve recognition as superfoods. They are rich in protein, iron, fiber, potassium, folate and antioxidants; plus they are naturally low in sodium and cholesterol-free. Adopt the half-cup habit.

Snack on nuts

A handful (about one ounce) of nuts can promote heart health when they replace less healthful snacks like crackers and chips. Unsalted almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pistachios and pecans are all nutrient powerhouses and provide a dose of fiber, too. Each nut has unique properties so consider varying nuts daily.

Enjoy two generous servings of fruit daily.

Though fruits contain natural sugars, they also provide an abundance of plant nutrients which support the health of our bodies and those of the tiny living organisms in our guts. Berries are the superstars of fruit but so are oranges, bananas and watermelon—enjoy fruits of the season.

Minimize saturated fat.

Cut back on saturated fat. Sources include coconut oil, butter, cheese, fatty beef, processed meats and eggs. Replace these foods with healthy alternatives: avocado, nuts, seed and extra-virgin olive oil.

Increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids.

More often, replace land animal protein with plants or fish/seafood and then at least twice a week include omega-3 rich fish, which include wild-caught salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, anchovies, rainbow trout and barramundi. Soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds are excellent plant sources.

Season liberally; limit sodium.

High sodium intake harms the brain while herbs and spices contain over 2000 health-promoting compounds. Seasoning options include ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, chiles, green herbs, garlic and onions.

Nancy Teeter, RDN, is a SaddleBrooke resident and an expert in anti-inflammatory diets and gut health.