Brain Healthy Holiday Dishes

By Michael Lawrence Green

The holidays are a wonderful time for friends, family and food. It’s a time of tradition and memories. It’s also a time when we break free from our diets, abusing our body and brain by eating and drinking almost anything that we see (or smell).  While that’s a fine approach, we do have the opportunity to make choices that will help our health and brain performance (without sacrificing flavor and tradition) during the holidays.  

Here are a few brain and body healthy recipes that will make your holidays special.  

1) Lemon-Herb Turkey

Turkey is a healthy holiday dish with numerous brain and body benefits. Turkey meat has been found to contain nutrients such as vitamins B, B1,B6, zinc and potassium; which have been found to keep blood cholesterol down, protect against birth defects, cancer and heart disease, aid in nerve function and growth, boost the immune system, regulate blood pressure, and assist in healing processes. Turkey also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that reduces anxiety and stress which have been shown to negatively impact memory and brain health. 

This recipe includes thyme and garlic. Thyme and other herbs, such as chamomile and parsley, are high in a compound called apigenin. In a 2015 study, researchers discovered apigenin increased neuroplasticity and created stronger connections between neurons (Souza et. al, 2015). This makes thyme a great herb for improved brain health and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases.

According to the University of Missouri, garlic can protect the brain from age-related neurological diseases. Garlic is a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Studies have shown garlic can reduce or possibly reverse cell damage due to environmental stress and inflammation.

Click here for the Lemon-Herb Turkey recipe.

2) Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Research has shown that the anti-inflammatory properties in sweet potatoes helps with memory and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. In addition, sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene. A recent study found that beta carotene may help protect people from memory loss and other forms of mental impairment.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with antioxidants which protect the brain damaging free radical cells. In addition, sweet potatoes are low in calories, high in potassium, and help to bring down blood pressure, which helps to protect the organ that pumps vital oxygen to your brain, your heart. 

This dish also contains cinnamon and walnuts. A 2012 study revealed that adding Walnuts to your diet may help reverse some forms of age-related brain deterioration. In the same study, walnuts were shown to reduce degenerative protein deposits in the brain and promoted the brain’s natural waste removal processes. Existing protein deposits were removed by the walnut-supplemented diets, with greatest effects noted in an area of the brain responsible for cognitive function and memory retention. Researchers also noted that walnuts boosted the brain’s normal antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. 

Click here for the Glazed Sweet Potatoes and other healthy recipes.

3) Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole is one of those traditional dishes that everyone thinks is healthy.  Think about it, green beans are extremely lean vegetables that are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and plant derived micronutrients. Green beans are loaded with Vitamin K which plays a role in protecting against oxidative damage to cells (aging) which supports the brain and nervous system structure. In addition, Vitamin K has restorative properties on the brain, specifically on the orbito-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is associated with emotions such as fear, guilt, dread and anxiety. When people experience depression, this part of the brain becomes overactive. Diets rich in Vitamin K tend to restore and relax this part of the brain. 

While the green beans in this delicious casserole can really help, their brain boosting properties are counteracted by the high amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol that are contained in the traditional ingredients. 

Click here for a healthier version of the Green Bean Casserole.

4) Citrus Beet Salad

This salad is a brain healthy and refreshing compliment to any holiday dinner. Its vital brain boosters are Beets, Oranges, and Mint. 

Researchers have found that regular doses of Beet juice help to increase blood flow to the area of the brain associated with dementia. Beet roots contain high concentrations of nitrates, which are converted into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth. And nitrites help open blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen to places lacking in oxygen. As a result, the brain gets a surge in performance. Oranges have a high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are antioxidants. They’re different from anthocyanins (oxidants), so they protect different portions of the body’s chemistry. According to the Linus Pauling Institute and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, these protective compounds appear to have the ability to improve memory and cognition. This effect is especially pronounced in the elderly population. According to recent research from Wheeling Jesuit University, the smell or flavor of Mint can have profound effects on cognitive functions. These include reasoning, problem solving, concept formation, judgment, attention span, and even memory. 

Click here for the Citrus Beet Salad recipe.

5) Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash a vegetable that provides significant brain and health benefits. Butternut squash contains Omega 3 fats, B vitamins (especially Vitamin B6), beta-carotene (Vitamin A), Vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium among other vitamins and nutrients. Butternut squash can help keep your brain functioning well and also lower stress-related anxiety at the same time.  Curry is another ingredient in this soup that has been known to provide brain boosting benefits. A main ingredient in curry is turmeric. Turmeric contains a special polyphenol called curcumin. According to Dr. Drew Ramsey of the Farmacy, over 4,000 scientific publications have focused on curcumin in the past decade. Studies have shown that even small amounts of tumeric have been linked to lower rates of dementia and increased brain performance.  

Click here for the Curried Butternut Squash Soup

6) Cranberry Coconut Trifle

This Trifle is a beautiful holiday dessert that is delicious and also healthy for your brain.  The ingredients that make this dish so great for your brain are cranberries and coconut.  

Cranberries are very similar to blueberries in that they are rich in antioxidants which are known to protect cells against free radicals which negatively impact brain health and speed up aging. In addition, research has found that cranberries contain chemicals that protect the brain and reduce the impact of a stroke. Coconut is rich in saturated fats such as Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCTs. The liver easily converts MCTs into ketones.  Ketones are a special high-energy fuel produced specifically to fuel the brain, Ketones help brain cells thrive and appear to even restore normal to near normal function in failing ones.  Brain cells, particularly neurons, are very limited, more limited than other cells, in what kinds of fuel they can use to function and to stay alive. Our current diet is rich in carbohydrates, brain cells usually use glucose (sugar) as their source of fuel, but they can also use ketones. Given many of the drawbacks of sugar, ketones are a great alternative. Ketones are not only a more efficient fuel source than glucose, but they also stimulate the growth and healing of brain cells. 

Click here for Cranberry Coconut Trifle Recipe.

Try some of these brain healthy recipes this holiday season.  They’ll satisfy your palate, improve your brain health, and provide you and your family with memories that you’ll never forget. For more information on brain healthy recipes, Click Here.

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