Healthy body, healthy mind: top brain-boosting foods

 

Sideways view of a happy woman's face with her brain outlined and glowing

It’s no secret that what we eat has a massive impact on brain function. However, wouldn’t it be great if we could really improve concentration, mood and stress just by changing up the diet a little?

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There are plenty of small changes you can make which will have a real impact not just on how you feel but also in supporting your cognitive functioning.

Suzie Sawyer shares her favourite foods for getting brain health on track.

Avocados to beat stress

There are a number of nutrients involved in the stress response. Vitamin B6 is one of the major players, and delicious avocados are a great source. In fact, avocados are all-round good guys, loaded with great nutrients, including vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which is also protective of the brain.

Avocado, guacamole and avocado salsa

On trend right now as a favourite breakfast is smashed avocado on sour dough bread, which makes a wonderful start to the day. Or why not include half an avocado in your morning power smoothie with banana, frozen berries, almond butter and coconut milk, to start the day right?

Turkey is not just for Christmas

For some reason, people forget that turkey is a really healthy, protein-packed food and should definitely be eaten all year round, especially if you want your brain to fire on all cylinders.

Sliced turkey breast

Turkey is high in vitamin B3 which is key in the production of brain neurotransmitters. A lack of vitamin B3 can cause low mood and depression, so turkey can really keep you feeling happier. Turkey breast meat has slightly less fat than chicken. Therefore, cooking up a turkey stir fry with plenty of colourful veg makes a nutrient-packed, easy and low-calorie meal.

Sharpen your brain with lecithin

Lecithin is a phospholipid (fat) that is essential for brain function. There is evidence that people have seen great benefits in their memory and all-round cognitive functions from increasing lecithin in their diet.

A plate with a picture of a brain on to represent eating healthily to support a sharper brain

Lecithin granules, which can be bought at most good health food shops, may not sound particularly appetising but they can be added very easily to soups, stews, cereals – in fact, any hot or cold dish, as their health benefits are not destroyed by heat.

Egg yolks are also a great source of lecithin so make sure you’re eating around six eggs per week, if you can. Lecithin granules can be suitable for vegetarians – always check out the label.

Boost your mood with beans

Many people avoid all types of beans as they’re worried about the all-too common digestive distress. However, the flatulence that beans often cause is generally because the body is not making enough of the enzyme which breaks them down. The more beans you eat however, the more the enzyme reaction will be uprated – something else to smile about!

A range of beans

All types of beans are high in B vitamins, plus the amino acid tryptophan, needed to produce our happy hormone, serotonin. Plus, they’re so easy to include in the diet on a regular basis, in soups or mixed with tinned tomatoes, onions, peppers and some chipotle, for a tasty dinner. YOU can even go for the old faithful of beans on wholemeal toast for breakfast. If you’re having tinned baked beans, make sure you opt for the sugar and salt-free versions though.

Keep focussed with pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fats and the mineral zinc. Even better, they contain protein to help balance blood sugar levels; another reason concentration levels will be improved. The brain contains lots of fat, much of that being the essential omega-3s, hence it’s really important to include them in the diet to support concentration and good mood.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are very easy to include in many dishes and are certainly great sprinkled over smashed avocado, porridge, cereals or mixed into natural yoghurt with fruit in the mornings. Pumpkin seeds are best not heated as this can damage the omega-3 fats.

We are what we eat. Just like the body, the brain can only function optimally with the right fuel so give it some help with these brain-boosting foods.

 

 

 

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Seasonal eating: top nutrition for February

Many people will be very glad to see the back of January, for lots of different reasons! And now February, the month of love, is here!

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It is a great time to welcome some seasonal food that can help to lift your mood and hopefully put a smile on your face.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five seasonal foods for February and explains why they’ll help boost your feelings of happiness.

Jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes help to feed the good gut bacteria. This in turn helps produce more serotonin, our happy hormone, primarily made in the gut. Interestingly, Jerusalem artichokes have no link to the city or other artichokes: it is likely that the name ‘Jerusalem’ is derived from the word girasole which is Italian for sunflower.

Jerusalem artichokes

As a vegetable they are quite delicious and whilst they may be slightly awkward to prepare, because of their knobbly shape, it’s well worth the effort. They can be cooked as you would potatoes, either roasted, sautéed or boiled. Jerusalem artichokes can also be eaten raw in salads and they’re great lightly stir-fried with the skin left on.

Scallops

Scallops are high in brain-boosting zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin (vitamin B3). All these nutrients are needed to help produce our brain neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

Cooked scallpos on a plate

We can be very proud of the quality of our scallops from the English waters as they generally have a really fine soft texture and a slightly sweet taste. Scallops balance really well with strong flavours such as bacon but also Oriental spices including lemongrass, chilli and ginger. Indeed, ginger also helps feed the good gut bacteria so eating them lightly fried in a little olive oil with ginger is going to support your immunity.

Passion Fruits

Passion fruits descend from the Passiflora plant and can naturally help anxiety, plus induce feelings of calm. Whilst passion fruits are clearly not grown in the UK, imports are readily available at this time of year.

Passion fruits

Passion fruits are rich sources of vitamin A and vitamin C which help to keep the immune system in good shape. They also contain some energy-boosting iron. The seeds are also packed with fibre and both the pulp and seeds can be eaten. The sieved juice is great slightly heated,with a little coconut sugar added, which makes a wonderful coulis to pour over fruit salad or your favourite chocolate fudge cake. Now that will certainly put a smile on your face!

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Its rich dark colour means it’s high in anti-aging antioxidants to help support anti-ageing – and that’s really something to smile about! The darker the colour of any fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients they tend to contain and purple sprouting broccoli is no exception.

Purple sprouting broccoli

It’s also packed with immune boosting vitamin C, beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A as needed in the body, and heart-loving potassium (even better for the month of love!)

Purple sprouting broccoli works well alone as a delicious vegetable side, but is also great stir-fried with garlic and sesame seeds, in a pasta dish or steamed and then lightly tossed with almonds and spring onions.

Swede

Swede is totally delicious and really doesn’t get enough airtime! From the family of cruciferous vegetables, which contain active compounds that may help prevent serious degenerative diseases, swede also provides good amounts of vitamin C. It’s great for anyone still trying to lose those additional Christmas kilos, as a typical portion size contains only around 11 calories.

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Swede works really well on its own simply mashed with a little butter and black pepper or alongside other mashed root veggies such as carrots and turnips. It can also be added to stews or to change things up mashed or roasted with potatoes.

And for those who’ve recently celebrated Burn’s Night, you’ll be familiar with the expression ‘neeps’ which is Scottish for swede! They’re traditionally eaten alongside the haggis.

So enjoy the month of love by including some delicious seasonal produce to make February a happy and healthy month!

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Eat to beat anxiety: top nutrition for lifting your mood

Dark days, post-Christmas blues, money worries, body issues and more all affect our mood and can cause anxiety. The early part of the year often brings distress for many people.

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The good news is that there are lots of foods and herbs that can help lift our mood and ease anxiety. Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite mood-boosters.

 

Eggs

Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing all the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Most importantly, they’re rich in vitamin B12 which is needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Indeed, deficiency of B12 can affect the brain and nervous system first which in turn can affect your mood.

Scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms and tomatoes

Eggs in all their forms, make a great start to the day and because of their high protein content, you will also stay fuller for longer.

Portobello mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are high in vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin. In years past, severe deficiency of vitamin B3 lead to something called pellagra characterised by dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Symptoms also include depression and anxiety. Thankfully, this has mostly been eradicated, though it is still a problem in developing countries, but it proves the importance of this nutrient in brain health and for helping banish anxiety.

Portobello mushrooms in a basket

The great news is that Portobello mushrooms also contain some vitamin D (widely deficient at this time of year), and a lack of which causes low mood.

So, get chopping and add them to stir fries, pasta dishes, on toast with beans for breakfast or simply roasted as a vegetable side.

Lavender

Top of the list as being one of nature’s most calming herbs is lavender. Many people report improved sleep after spraying their pillow with lavender. It appears to work in a number of ways on the nervous system, but it certainly seems to activate GABA, one of our relaxing brain neurotransmitters[1].

Lavender oil and fresh lavender on a pillow

Lavender also makes a really delicious tea infusion. All you need to do is pour boiling water over one teaspoon of the dried herb, cover and leave to infuse for about five minutes. You can sweeten with a little honey if desired and you’ll soon be feeling more relaxed.

Green Tea

All teas have some health benefits, particularly for their immune-boosting antioxidants. However, green tea contains the amino acid, L-theanine, which, just like lavender, helps promote GABA. Green tea is especially high in something called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. This is a particularly powerful antioxidant that works on brain function, also helping to promote GABA.

A cup of green tea

If you’re feeling anxious, then it’s good to get into the habit of drinking three cups of green tea daily. It can also help reduce the anxiety-promoting effects of caffeine if you’ve succumbed to that early morning double espresso!

Oats

Oats are high in the amino acid tryptophan which is converted into serotonin in the body, our happy hormone. Serotonin is then converted into the sleep hormone melatonin; a lack of sleep can also contribute to higher levels of anxiety.

Bowl of warming porridge with spoon of dry oats next to it

Oats will also provide you with sustained energy throughout the day, plus your mood will be lifted from having a boost of serotonin. Alternate an egg-based breakfast with porridge through the week and you should start to notice a difference.

So if you are struggling with anxiety or low mood this winter, then don’t despair; nature has provided a wealth of remedies for you to try.

[1] Peir Hossein Koulivand et al. Lavender and the nervous system. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013;61304

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts