What if you were offered a tool that would lift your spirits, improve thinking and memory, and give you the energy to do all the things you want to do?
The fact is, you already have this tool at your disposal. Numerous medical studies have found that what we eat on a daily basis is powerful “medicine”—perhaps the most powerful—for fighting depression and fatigue and supporting cognitive performance.
Food can actually trigger chemical reactions in our brains that change how we feel and function. Read on for insights and recipes that include brain-boosting ingredients.
Research shows that a higher risk of depression is linked to a diet that includes few fruits and vegetables, but lots of red or processed meat (such as deli meat, bacon and hot dogs), as well as high-fat dairy products like whole milk and butter. Meanwhile, a diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish and olive oil is strongly associated with a much lower risk of depression. Certain foods spur the release of the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. This category includes foods rich in the nutrient magnesium, such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds and whole grains; foods rich in B vitamins, including poultry, fish, avocado and almonds; and foods that contain zinc, such as oysters, cashews, liver and egg yolks.
Sugary foods like soda and candy lead to a sharp surge of energy because they trigger the brain to release dopamine. However, this so-called “sugar high” will be brief and will be followed by a slump in mood and energy levels. On the other hand, a well-balanced diet that includes healthy fats, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables leads to steady levels of energy.
A recent large-scale study of 28,000 people in 40 different countries found that people who ate the healthiest diets were 24 percent less likely to have a decline in their thinking skills, compared with people who ate the least healthy diets. Other studies have found a connection between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function.
All of these mental benefits come on top of the physical benefits of a healthy diet—joints that don’t ache, fewer colds, better bowel function, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart and kidney disease, and much more.
This recipe uses lots of fresh peppers, onions, lime and fish combined with corn or rice and seasonings that provide a little heat, such as the jalapeño used here.
- Preheat skillet on high heat with olive oil.
- Add onions and peppers and sauté on high heat until edges of vegetables begin to brown. Set aside in mixing bowl.
- Spray grill pan with cooking spray and cook fish fillets until translucent, about 3 minutes each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
- Add fish to vegetables and toss lightly.
- Warm tortillas according to package directions.
- Divide taco mixture among tortillas and garnish each tortilla with cilantro and wedge of lime.
Coconut Pumpkin Soup
This tasty version of pumpkin soup provides loads of nutrients, including fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and iron.
- In a large saucepan, cook sweet pepper, carrots and onion in hot oil over medium heat about 5 minutes, or until tender.
- In a large bowl, combine broth, canned pumpkin and coconut milk. Stir in ginger.
- Add liquid ingredients to saucepan of vegetables.
- Bring to boil, reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes or until heated through, stirring frequently.
- If you like a thicker soup, simmer longer to desired thickness. Be careful to cook on low heat, checking frequently.
- Add cilantro or other fresh herb as garnish.
African Vegetable Stew
Based on a traditional Ethiopian recipe, this hearty dish is packed with nutrients and flavors commonly used in African dishes, including teff, a whole grain with a mild, nutty taste that’s rich in vitamin B6, iron, magnesium and manganese.
- Place olive oil in a large stew pot. Add onion and garlic; cook until translucent.
- Add berbere spice and cook 30 seconds, stirring until combined.
- Add stock, water, teff, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally.
- Cover and cook 20 minutes, adding a little water if stew is too thick.
- Add collard greens and simmer until wilted.
- Add peanut butter. Mix well and serve.
Last Updated: March 30, 2021