I have been operating for many years with an understanding of the deep and important truth of the cliché “You are what you eat.” Literally – what we put in our mouths is what our body has to build/maintain itself with, but one of the new twists on this for me is that besides affecting our physical bodies, what we eat also affects our brains and the way we think. I mean, I would say I have been aware of that idea – after all it’s one of the things I believe is beneficial about a vegan diet; when we eat good, simple food and avoid taking suffering into our bodies, we give our bodies nutritious, peaceful fuel to work with.
However, the book I’m reading for my course at the moment, “New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” by Patrick Holford promotes the idea that nutrients really can help to control our moods, affect the quickness of our thinking, improve our memories, and prevent/lessen the effects of diseases like dementia, alzheimers – even schizophrenia and Down’s Syndrome, and some of that kind of blows my mind.
What I DON’T love about the concept is that it’s very much about supplements, and I REALLY feel that it’s important and best for us to get our nutrients from whole foods. Still, I’m grateful that I’m more aware now of some of the foods I should be eating to protect and help my brain and mental health. Here are a few of the really important ones:
- Foods high in antioxidants, like Vitamin C, A (beta carotene), E and others – this means lots of fruits and veggies, especially raw ones
- Essential Fatty Acids – a good balance of Omega 3s and Omega 6s – this means ground flax seed, and a good mix of other nuts and seeds daily (especially pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts) and/or a TBSP of unheated Udo’s Oil on my salad
- B-vitamins – besides my daily B12 supplement, I’m making sure I’m eating whole, unrefined grains, raw or lightly steamed greens (especially kale), cruciferous veggies like broccoli, and BEANS!
However, it’s not only about what we eat, but also what we don’t eat. When you think about the idea from the perspective of the “non-foods” we eat, like coffee, sugar, processed crap and artificial colours/flavours – that stuff REALLY has the potential to affect us negatively.
The idea that what we are eating/not eating can make us happy or sad, energetic or low, focused or scattered, that’s pretty powerful stuff, and something I want to pay a lot more attention to. It’s a shift in perspective in thinking about the fact that that brain and “mind” is not something separate from our body. We don’t get into foul moods for mysterious reasons – lots of times it has to do with what we are putting in our mouths on a regular basis. I have some pondering to do on that, so in the meantime I am going to share a recipe for a Brain Boosting Broccoli-Mushroom Stir Fry that I made a few nights ago. Brain Boosting Broccoli-Shittake Mushroom Stir Fry with Ginger Hoisin Sauce
- 1 large head of broccoli, broken into smallish florets
- 1 large onion, cut into boats
- 1 cup shittake mushrooms, cut in half
- 1/4 cup raw cashews
Sauce (adapted from Dreena Burton’s first cookbook, The Everyday Vegan):
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp ginger, grated (pulp and juice)
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
- 1-2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp Braggs liquid aminos/tamari
- a splash or two of Sri Racha hot sauce (to taste)
- Get all your veggies chopped up and prepare the sauce by mixing all ingredients together in a bowl.
- Stir fry the vegetables, adding them to the pan in the following order: onion, broccoli, mushrooms; you don’t need to cook them for long at all – watch them closely and remove from heat as soon as the broccoli starts to soften and is bright green.
- Add the sauce to the veggies until coated. Sprinkle with cashews and serve over brown rice.
Why is it brain boosting? Broccoli is PACKED full of nutrients, like Vitamin A, C (important anti-oxidants) and B vitamins, all of which are good for your brain.