While your brain makes up just 2% of your total body weight, it consumes a whopping 20% of the energy you take in from food, which is why you need to make sure you are giving it the correct fuel.
We’re bombarded from all sides with recommendations for a healthy body, but what about our brains?
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to prevent cognitive decline or optimize brain performance. However, a rapidly growing number of studies emphasize that the most important strategy is a healthy diet and that fuelling your brain with the right food can go a long way to enhance brain function, improve your moods, and reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
Now the best kind of diet for the brain is also the best kind of diet for the gut. Thanks to the connection known as the gut-brain axis, your gut has a huge influence on the health of your brain. This is because a majority of your neurotransmitters are actually produced in the gut. Your gut is also where the nutrients that are essential for proper brain functioning are absorbed. If your gut is leaky, harmful compounds and food proteins can cross the gut barrier and cause an inflammatory immune response. This can further lead to inflammation in the brain and a leaky blood-brain barrier, setting you up for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease.
So the best kind of diet for the brain and the gut is one that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. The whole-food plant-based diet does just that.
Researchers from York University in Canada analyzed the data of a health survey that involved over 45,000 participants over the age of 30, assessing the degree of physical activity, the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed every day, and cognitive functioning. They found that young adults who consumed ten or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day reported better cognitive functioning. Older adults experienced the benefits already from five daily servings.
Fruits and vegetables contain high quantities of important nutrients, such as fiber, antioxidants as well as flavonoids, which likely reduce the risk of cognitive decline by enhancing the immune system, improving gut health, and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
So if you want to start eating for your brain and making the transition to a whole food plant-based diet, check out some of our favourite brain-boosting meal recipes below.
Magnesium-Packed Smoothie Bowl
A great way to start your day and make sure you have your recommended dietary intake of magnesium is with this magnesium-packed smoothie. Optimum magnesium levels help with anything and everything gut — and brain-related. Whether you want to wake up feeling invigorated, boost exercise performance, fight depression, or just calm your nerves so you can sleep well, you need plenty of magnesium to regulate gut bacteria so you can achieve all of the above.
- Blend ingredients in a food processor until mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Adjust milk quantity until you get the desired consistency.
- Pour into a bowl and garnish with sliced almonds, chia seeds, cacao nibs, desiccated coconut, and nut butter.
We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this porridge will give your gut a jumpstart! The prebiotic quinoa and berries help gut bacteria thrive. A healthy gut ecosystem is essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, for the absorption of brain-boosting nutrients, and for the health of your gut wall barrier.
- Place cooked quinoa in a saucepan. Add 2 cups of coconut milk and ground ginger.
- Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- Add coconut nectar and mix well.
- To serve, top each bowl with remaining 2 cups of coconut milk and berries.
- Drizzle coconut nectar on top and serve immediately.
Chef’s notes: instead of using coconut nectar, you can also just use fresh fruit or chopped dates to add a bit of sweetness to this recipe.
This dish is wonderfully flavoursome with the abundance of spices and herbs it contains. It’s also full of nutrients for both your gut and your brain.
Beans are rich in folate (vitamin B9) and iron, which are important brain nutrients. Studies have shown that folic acid can improve verbal and memory performance and may delay the onset of dementia. Beans also contain protein and fiber which can improve insulin sensitivity and balance blood sugar. This, in turn, can positively influence cognitive function. They also contain minerals such as manganese and magnesium which are important for healthy brain function.
- Lightly roast the cumin seeds in a fry pan until slightly brown and add the rest of the spices and herbs. Transfer to a grinder and grind until the spice mixture is like sand.
- Slightly fry the onion in a large frypan and add the ground herbs and spices.
- When the onions are brown, add the cans of diced tomatoes and the cans of beans and let simmer for about fifteen minutes.
- Enjoy with some corn chips or bread and some coconut yogurt.
Super Easy Lentil Salad
Lentils are the superstar ingredient in this super easy salad! These itty bitty legumes are rich in insoluble fibers, which prevent constipation and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
Lentils are also an excellent source of iron, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and zinc, nutrients essential for proper brain functioning. They’re also a great source of plant-based protein for healthy blood sugar balance.
Serves 6-8 people.Ingredients:
- Place lentils, vegetable broth, garlic, and bay leaf in a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20-25 minutes until lentils are tender. Remove from heat and drain lentils in a colander, discarding bay leaf. Add a pinch of salt to taste and stir through.
- Whisk oil, lemon juice, cumin and coriander together.
- Toss lentils, carrot, celery, red onion and cilantro/parsley in lemon mixture to combine. Season with extra salt if needed.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Hemp and Fig Almond Butter Cookies
These hearty homemade cookies contain some essential nutrients for not only a healthy gut but also a healthy brain. The hemp seeds and flaxseeds are high in omega 3s, fiber, and magnesium and almonds also are a good source of fiber and magnesium. These cookies are perfect for a filling breakfast, midday snack or delicious dessert.
Makes 12 cookiesIngredients:
- Preheat the oven to 400F or 205C.
- Mix together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients (except the figs and choc chips) and combine well until the mixture is moist and holds together.
- Stir through the figs and choc chips. Shape the dough into cookies and place them on a lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. 12 minutes will leave them softer, 15 minutes will make them crunchier.
- Let them cool for 5 minutes and then enjoy.
Chef’s notes: They will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Alternatively, these cookies can also be eaten raw. Instead of baking them in the oven, leave them in the fridge for 2 hours.
Are you going to make the choice today for your brain? Start paying attention to what you put on your plate and you will experience better moods, better mental performance, and you will reduce your risk of cognitive decline down the track. And don’t just put the right fuel for your brain in the engine once, but every day.