The Art of Habit Creation: Eating for Your Brain

The Art of Habit Creation: Eating for Your Brain

REVIEWED BY — Tanya Mezher, MS, RDN, CDN

We’re kicking off our series on habit-forming health practices with one of our favorite topics: food. That doesn’t mean we’re ranking our favorite healthy ice cream (although that would also be a good read). No, it means we’re taking a look at how you can eat for optimized cognitive function. Or, you know: brain food. 

The healthy eating choir usually sings about how the right foods help your body. You’ve heard a lot about eating for gut health. And that’s good information. What gets lost in the shuffle, though, is that the right foods also benefit your brain. The fact is, gut health and brain function are both crucial when you’re thinking about how you eat. 

From the perspective of functional medicine, you can see that food itself is medicine and the impacts of diet extend far beyond your digestive tract. Centering the functional medicine belief system, one of the main ways to promote brain health is by making a habit of loading up on nutrients found in certain foods. Lucky for us, these brain foods taste good, are easy to find, and can be seamlessly included in any nutrition plan you already have. We’re talking about leafy greens, red meat, fatty fish, and berries. 

Before we go on, we have to say that the most important aspect of eating for brain health is that you MAKE IT A HABIT. Eating right is hard and we’re not here to lecture anybody. But in order to get the happy brain benefits of certain foods, they have to be part of your regular diet. Simply put, you have to make it a habit.

Going Green

We’re all tired of being told to eat salads. Especially when a wedge of iceberg doused in blue cheese is, technically, a salad. Move past the eye rolls and the ranch dressing though, and the fact remains: the right vegetables do more than just provide a great source of fiber. 

So what kind of greens are we talking about here? Hint: it’s not iceberg. We are spreading the good news about the regular consumption of kale, spinach, arugula and collards. These green goddesses are known to contain high levels of vitamin K (phylloquinone), lutein, β-carotene, nitrate, folate, kaempferol, and α-tocopherol: nutrients that are critical in the prevention of cognitive decline as we age. 

The combined effect of these nutrients has been shown to have an impact in decreasing memory loss and preventing the development of diseases such as Alzheimers and Dementia. Lutein in particular is known for its ability to combat inflammation, another contributing factor in diseases of the brain. 

Your dietary decisions are personal, so we always take a personalized approach. But if you’re looking to keep your brain sharp, we have some suggestions. Try adding a serving of leafy greens to one of your meals every day (you know: MAKE IT A HABIT). That serving could be a spinach omelet for breakfast, an arugula salad to level up your lunch, or collards with dinner. Whatever direction you choose to go, make it a leafy green one. And MAKE IT A HABIT. 

Embracing Fats

In a world of dietary smear campaigns, few foods have come under attack as much as fat and oil. Fat has been unfairly canceled many times over and we are here to take a stand: we have fat’s back. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are a fan favorite when it comes to optimizing brain function. These key players do everything from lowering anxiety levels to sharpening memory. Scientifically speaking, in addition to being building blocks for the brain, Omega-3s also fight inflammation and improve oxygen intake. 

The Western diet is notoriously deficient in Omega-3s. And to make things even weirder, Omega-3s have an evil twin. Omega-6s (the villains here) infiltrate our daily nutritional intake and actually promote inflammation. Omega-6s can be found in many of the cooking oils we use and in corn-based products. An important habit to develop (MAKE IT A HABIT) is balancing the ratio of Omega-3s to Omega-6s. 

We were a little harsh there. Omega-6s aren’t an evil twin. They’re more like a bad-influence cousin you should see less often. Either way, conscious and strategic incorporation of Omega-3-rich foods into daily eating habits is a great way to keep the balance.

For those who like fish, making a habit of getting your healthy omega-3s means eating salmon, herring, and/or sardines at least twice a week. Side note: when shopping for fish, look for small, fatty fish and remember the acronym SMASH, which stands for sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring, to get your dose of omega-3s without ingesting loads of mercury and other toxins.Not a fan of fish? Vegetarian? No problem. You can throw a handful of chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts into your morning meal. 

When it comes to omega-3 supplements, you have options. Supplements are the long-term game—and brain health is worth the investment.

More Berries, Please

This one is pretty easy. Not only are berries delicious, but they are also packed with flavanols, which increase blood flow to the brain to repair and reduce cell damage. Another berry benefit: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries all contain high levels of antioxidants. This dietary buzzword has stayed relevant because antioxidants have a proven record of fighting free radicals and preventing diseases of the brain associated with aging. 

Looking for a tasty way to improve memory, prevent neurodegenerative disease, and boost general cognitive function(we’re full of good ideas)? Throw a berry-packed protein smoothie into your morning routine. Or you can go for a low-mess, no-fuss snack of almond butter or icelandic greek yogurt with a handful of blueberries. Just, you know, MAKE IT A HABIT. 

We don’t need to tell you how to eat your berries. They’re great as an added meal flourish or a snack in their own right. Whatever you choose, start by incorporating a half cup of berries into your daily routine. 

Make it a Habit (MAKE IT A HABIT!)

In order to get the most out of these brain-power super-foods it’s important to make a habit of adding them into your weekly meal plan. Sometimes, that’s harder than it sounds. And it’s totally reasonable to think relying solely on diet just isn’t going to happen.

Supplements, when taken regularly, are a great way to complement what you’re eating. With the nutrient levels in our soil diminished due to over-cultivation, getting into a routine of taking basic supplements for brain health is a great way to ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need. 

Ready to join us at Malla to form an enduring habit? Make today the day you commit to a diet that puts your brain first.

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