Sunday, August 11, 2013

Superfoods can be ambrosial. Really!

Paul Klee, Around the Fish (1926) MOMA
How the household's designated cook can integrate brain superfoods into meals that taste great and are easy to make is our challenge for this post. Here's a day's worth of suggestions using easy-to-find items we all know and love. (Best bet: go for foods with color!)
Wheat germ is a rich source of choline, which helps the body produce acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter that boosts memory). Mix a few teaspoons into some Greek yoghurt with some berries and you have a delicious, high-protein brain booster to start the day. (A study published in the Annals of Neurology found that a diet high in blueberries, strawberries, et al. were linked to a slower mental decline in areas like memory and focus in a large sample of middle-aged women.) The versatile egg is another excellent choline source.
Coffee is A-OK too. Its caffeine boosts mental acuity while its antioxidants help maintain brain health.
Make a big ole salad that includes three whammy vegetables:  avocados, tomatoes, and spinach (well, the first two are technically fruits).
  • Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow, making them another brain food. They also help regulate colesterol.
  • Tomatoes have loads of vitamins and antioxidants —and they reduce inflammation in the digestive tract.
  • Spinach is rich in the antioxidant lutein, which is thought to help protect against cognitive decline (as well as to promote eye health). A longitudinal study at Harvard Medical School found that women who reported eating the most leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, chard, kale) and cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cauliflower, broccoli) had a dramatically lower rate of cognitive decline compared to those who ate the least.
Emily Litella sidebar: "What's all this fuss about anti-intoxicants?"
It's antioxidants, Emily. Adding antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to your daily diet strengthens your body's ability to fight infection and disease. Antioxidants can help prevent cancer and a range of other health problems. Like the carnivorous yellow circle in a PacMan game, they go after the "free radicals" that cause cell damage or death throughout the body.
Afternoon snack
Grab a bar of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate. The caffeine will pep you up and the flavonoids will help improve blood flow by regulating cholesterol and lowering blood pressure.
How about putting together a tasty pesto with walnuts, olive oil, garlic, and basil?  The walnuts have both anti-inflammatory nutrients and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which promotes blood flow and efficient delivery of oxygen to the brain; the monounsaturated fats in olive oil slow brain aging; and garlic may inhibit the formation of brain tumors (according to research published in Cancer, its organo-sulfur compounds kill malignant glioblastoma cells); and basil has long been used in Mediterranean countries as an antispasmodic and tonic for the nervous system.
But the bottom line here is that we're not eating pesto as a penance: it tastes divine as well as being beneficial to the brain. So here's the recipe (adapted from the New Complete Guide to Nutritional Health, which I highly recommend):
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 15 large basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup of walnuts
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~1 lb of pasta (try buckwheat soba noodles for a change!)
  • Crush the garlic, basil, and nuts in a mortar (or blender). Add the salt, pepper, Parmesan, and olive oil to make an emulsion. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Put the pasta in and return to a boil. Cook for ~10-12 minutes until al dente. Mix with pesto mixture after draining (a little of the hot water will help the process).
What about beverages, you ask?
Green tea and red wine have been shown in the laboratory to inhibit the accumulation of amyloid-beta peptides in the brain—the key event that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins build up and form toxic balls which latch onto nerve cells, causing them to malfunction. (Dang, of course it would be white wine and black tea that I prefer!! No wonder I'm losing it!)
Don't forget the water though. When you become dehydrated, your brain tissue shrinks, impairing cognitive function, short-term memory, and focus.


  1. Green tea tastes like the runoff from my lawn. I've seen it put into ice cream, even shampoo!
    I think there's a conspiracy to sell something no one would otherwise drink!

  2. The recipe for the pesto with walnuts pasta looks amazing i will have to try it this week. Thanks.

    Here is another great pesto pasta recipe I found:

    1. you can't go wrong w/ pesto! The first time I ate it I thought I was in heaven. Had to tell everyone about this great thing I had in an Italian restaurant (before everybody in the us was scarfing it down)!

  3. That was the exact salad I had for dinner last night. Spinach, tomatoes,avocados and home made salad dressing. My brain feels sharper already!