Brain health recipes for better cognition in later life

Rob Hobson rustles up some recipes on the back of a new campaign called Navigating Brain Health where he takes a dive into what key nutrients the brain really needs to optimise its function. 

brain health recipes
A good diet can help protect brain function.

There are many nutrients involved in brain health. The role they play varies and includes supporting brain development and function (eg synthesis of neurotransmitters, communication between brain cells) and protecting the brain (e.g. reducing inflammation). 

Certain nutrients can also enhance brain activity and these are often referred to as nootropics. These not only include nutrients but also herbs and other compounds. The most commonly used is probably caffeine which helps to increase mental alertness by stimulating brain activity. 

Certain nutrients can also impact on mental health which is a growing area of research. Lots of work is being done around the gut-brain connection.  For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep and appetite as well as mediating mood and inhibiting pain. Around 95% of the serotonin produced is done so in the GI tract which is lined with millions of nerve cells.

The function of these cells as well as the production of serotonin is hugely influenced by the bacteria that make up our microbiome. Hence, it seems logical that the health of our gut can influence our mood. 

Another example is magnesium and this is linked to GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is an amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter for the central nervous system – in other words it reduces nerve cell activity. Magnesium can bind with GABA receptors to stimulate their activity and calm the brain activity that drives anxiety.

Mediterranean diet shown to help protect the brain

  • High intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes and cereals.
  • Moderate intake of fish (include oily fish)
  • Low to moderate intake of dairy foods.
  • Low intake of meat and poultry.
  • High ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats (MUFA are found in nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.

Research suggests several key nutrients 

Omega 3 – oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring), nuts and seeds.

Flavanoids – citrus fruits, berries, dark chocolate, nuts, onions, ginger, broccoli, asparagus, dark leafy greens, green tea, celery, parsley, oregano, red and purple fruits and veggies (berries, red cabbage, grapes, cherries), soy foods (tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame).

Vitamin D – oily fish, egg yolk, mushrooms grown under UV light, fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Vitamin E – olive oil, nuts, nut butter, seeds and wholewheat, avocado, spinach, butternut squash, kiwifruit, broccoli, trout, prawns.

I think there are core nutrients to support and future-proof brain health and then others including herbs and numerous compounds that can be used to modulate brain activity to support our health and performance goals when needed.

Core nutrients include

Omega 3 – oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, herring), nuts and seeds.

Flavonoids – citrus fruits, berries, dark chocolate, nuts, onions, ginger, broccoli, asparagus, dark leafy greens, green tea, celery, parsley, oregano, red and purple fruits and veggies (berries, red cabbage, grapes, cherries), soy foods (tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame).

Vitamin D – oily fish, egg yolk, mushrooms grown under UV light, fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.

Vitamin E – olive oil, nuts, nut butter, seeds and wholewheat, avocado, spinach, butternut squash, kiwifruit, broccoli, trout, prawns.

B vitamins – wholegrains, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, fish

Iron – meat, beans, pulses, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, dried spices. 

Choline – eggs, dairy foods, liver, cod, shiitake mushrooms, beef, soy foods, chicken breast, salmon, prawns, chickpeas, edamame, yoghurt, broccoli, peas

Diet should always come first and below are a few really easy recipes to support your brain health.  Sometimes,  it’s not so easy to get all we can from our diet foods so one of the best ways  to get this is via nootropics specifically formulated supplements you can take that include the above such as Healthspan’s  Love Your Brain, a 28 day supply available at Superdrug and at healthspan.co.uk 

smashed avocado boiled eggs - Brain health recipes
Avocado smash and boiled eggs.

Two boiled eggs with avocado smash

Serves 2

This quick breakfast dish uses eggs which are a source of many key nutrients including those that are beneficial for brain health. Eggs contain a little vitamin D and are available as omega 3 enriched. Avocado and seeds are rich in the antioxidant, vitamin E as well as numerous B vitamins. 

Ingredients

4 eggs (omega 3 enriched)
1 avocado
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Pinch salt
Pinch pepper

Method 

  1. Place a pan of water on a high heat to boil. Gently place the eggs in the water and boil for 6 minutes for a soft-boiled egg. Boil for up to 10 minutes if you prefer hard boiled. Peel the eggs and slice in half. 
  2. Place the avocado in a bowl and mash it together with the pumpkin seeds, salt and pepper.
  3. Serve with the eggs.
  4. You can also serve with toast if you like and sourdough is a nice choice.
yoghurt seeds and berries - Brain health recipes
Berries and seeds with smooth, creamy yoghurt.

Yoghurt topped with almonds, seeds and berries

Serves 2

Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant. They also contain a plant source of omega 3 and while this is not well converted in the body it still offers a useful source for vegans. Berries are a rich source of flavonoids as well as vitamin C which is another key antioxidant.

Ingredients 

300g low fat Greek yoghurt 
2 tbsp toasted sliced almonds 
2 tbsp mixed seeds 
150g fresh berries of choice 
2 tsp honey 
Ground cinnamon 

Method 

Divide the Greek yoghurt between two bowls.

Top the yoghurt with almonds, seeds, berries and honey then sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

beetroot soup - brain health recipes
Delicious beetroot soup.

Beetroot and cumin soup 

Serves 2

Beetroot is a rich source of anthocyanins which are a class of flavonoids. This brightly coloured vegetable is also rich in folate which has been widely researched for its impact on cognition and mood.

High Blood pressure has been shown to damage tiny blood vessels in the brain which may affect cognition and memory as well as increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Beetroot is high in potassium which helps to maintain fluid balance in the body and maintain health blood pressure as part of a balanced diet. 

Ingredients 

5 large raw beetroots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
A pinch of turmeric
1 tsp dried thyme
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, finely diced
500ml vegetable stock (see page 283)
2 tbsp plain soya yogurt, to serve 

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6.
    Wrap up the beetroots in foil to create a sealed parcel and place it on a baking tray. Roast for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven. When the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel them, then dice and set aside.  
  2. Set a large saucepan on a medium heat and add the oil, then fry the onion for 10 minutes until translucent. 
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, turmeric and dried thyme. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring, then add the carrots and celery. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
    Pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Add the beetroot and cook for 5 more minutes. 
  4. Transfer the soup to a blender and blitz until completely smooth. Serve each bowlful topped with a dollop of soya yogurt. 

Indian spiced roasted butternut squash and tofu with coconut yoghurt

image004
Homemade roasted pumpkin

Serves 2

This is a great alternative to meat and can be served at room temperature with salad. If you don’t like squash then use sweet potato. This curry is rich in antioxidants including vitamin C and beta carotene (gives butternut squash their orange colour.

Tofu is a plant source omega 3 and while this is not well converted in the body it still offers a useful source for vegans. Spices such as curry powder have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory and are a good addition to the diet when eating to future-proof your brain. 

Ingredients 

1 small butternut squash (or 2 large, sweet potatoes)
1 tbsp mild curry powder
½ red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 

2 tbsp light olive or groundnut oil
5 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
100g firm tofu, cut into small cubes 

Dressing

2 tbsp coconut yogurt
1 tbsp light olive or groundnut oil
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
A handful of pumpkin seeds, toasted 

Salad

100g baby spinach leaves
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
A handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped 

Salt
Black pepper 

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. 
  2. Peel the squash, de-seed and cut into half-moons about 1cm thick.
  3. Combine the curry powder, red onion, garlic and oil in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Add the squash, tomatoes and tofu to the bowl and toss to coat with the spice mixture. 
  4. Tip on to the baking tray and roast in the oven for 25 minutes, shaking the tray frequently to ensure the squash doesn’t stick and burn. 
  5. Meanwhile, make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl then set aside.
  6. Now make the salad. Finely shred the spinach and mix with the cucumber and coriander in a bowl. Add half of the dressing to the salad and toss. 
  7. Remove the curry from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the curry and serve with the salad. 

If you enjoyed Brain health recipes for better cognition in later life, you’ll find more fantastic healthy eating recipes on our Nutrition channel.

Healthspan Love your Brain

Win 28 day Healthspan Love your Brain vitamin supplement

We have five packs of the Love your Brain health supplement up for grabs. Just log in and answer a simple question for your chance to win.

Prize draw closes Thursday 1 September 2022.

Tags: , , Last modified: August 1, 2022

Written by 12:00 pm Nutrition, Health

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