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During the lead up to Christmas, many of us can feel incredibly flat and in a state of total brain fog. This is a pretty natural outcome of working hard all year, especially if holidays and weekends away had to be cancelled due to COVID.

However, the end of year should be a fun and enjoyable time, and we certainly should not be entering it as a shell of ourselves!

With that being said, here I am sharing some key foods to support clarity of the mind and to promote focus, which should see you being able to make the most of this time of year and not want to hide away from all of the festivities.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are found within plant foods and exert beneficial and anti-inflammatory effects, protective of not only brain health but they also help to reduce chronic disease risk. Impressively, flavonoids have been shown to reduce subjective symptoms of cognitive decline and they also increase blood flow to the brain.

So which foods contain flavonoids?

  • Flavones: celery, parsley, hot peppers, mint and chamomile, dandelion, carrots, olive oil, peppermint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, dill, oregano.
  • Flavonols: onions, leeks, brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, herbal tea, tomatoes, beans and apples, cucumber, green beans, sprouts, squash.
  • Flavanols: teas, cocoa, grapes, applies, berries, red wine, banana, peaches and pears.
  • Flavanones: citrus fruits – lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange.
  • Isoflavones: soy products, flaxseeds and legumes.
  • Anthocyanins: berries, pomegranate, plums, cranberries, black currants, red and purple grapes.

How to add to your diet:

  • Flavour dishes with herbs
  • Add herbs to meals when cooking and dips
  • Start your stay with a serve of fruit
  • Grate pear and/or apple into yoghurt as a snack or add to pancake mix
  • Make a berry compote and have with yoghurt for snacks or dessert
  • Use onions and leeks as the base of dishes
  • Drink more tea! Try iced tea come summer
  • Have a few meat free meals each week and use legumes and/or tofu instead of meat
  • Add berries to salads

Lutein rich foods

Similar to flavonoids, lutein is a carotenoid found in bright coloured fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens. Carotenoids act as antioxidants in the body and are protective against chronic disease. Of relevance here, lutein is found in brain tissue and is linked to better cognitive function in older adults.

So which foods contain lutein?

  • Egg yolk
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Spirulina
  • Peas
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Avocado

Lutein is fat-soluble; this means it is best absorbed when eaten alongside a source of fat. Good sources of fat include extra virgin olive oil, tahini paste, raw nuts and seeds and avocado. Furthermore, overcooking food will significantly reduce the lutein content.

Here are some easy ways to add more to sources of lutein to your day:

  • Add spinach leaves and spirulina to smoothies
  • Finely chop kale, parsley and cherry tomatoes and toss together with olive oil, lemon juice, pinch of sumac, salt and pepper as a quick tabouli
  • Toss chopped kale into stir-fry’s right before taking off the heat
  • Add raw finely chopped broccoli to homemade hummus or pesto
  • Swap margarine for avocado on sandwich’s, wraps and toast
  • Blend avocado with herbs and nuts for a creamy pasta dressing
  • Blend 1 cup of cooked peas with a few tablespoons of coconut milk and ground ginger and serve as a puree with fish, lamb or chicken
  • As a light dinner serve stir-fried chicken or prawns in lettuce cups

Healthy Fats

It is well known that healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are critical for brain health. After all, the brain is more than 60% fat and therefore requires fat for optimal function. Fat also helps with satiety which can have a positive effect on our energy levels and therefore concentration.

So which foods contain healthy fats?

  • Monounsaturated fats – extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, nuts and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats – fatty fish, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts

Here are some easy ways to add more sources of healthy fats to your day:

  • Cook with extra virgin olive oil or even try avocado oil
  • Use avocado as a spread instead of butter
  • Aim to eat 2 x 150g serves fatty fish per week
  • Sprinkle nuts/seeds on cereal, salads and even roasted veggies
  • Try snacking on raw nuts and seeds
  • Crust fish or chicken with nuts and seeds before cooking
  • Add avocado to smoothies

Choline Rich Foods

Choline is known as the ‘brain vitamin” because it is used by the brain to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for cognitive function. It doesn’t get much attention but should certainly be used as part of a brain health protocol!

So which foods contain choline?

  • Beans
  • Beef and chicken liver
  • Egg yolk
  • Lecithin
  • Lentils
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Split peas
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach

Here are some easy ways to add more sources of choline to your day:

  • Swap meat for lentils or split peas
  • Blend liver into sauces or Bolognese
  • Snack on peanuts or add to salads
  • Choose spinach as your greens
  • Try tofu or tempeh in stir-frys, curries and salads

Turmeric

Turmeric is a superstar when it comes to brain function. This is because turmeric contains curcumin known to enhance BDNF a neurotransmitter important for cognitive function.

Don’t forget curcumin has poor bioavailability. To get the most out of it, consume it alongside a source of healthy fats and pinch of black pepper

Here are some easy ways to add turmeric to your day:

  • Add fresh or ground/powered to smoothies or salad dressings
  • Use as a marinade when cooking meat or tofu
  • Sprinkle on roasted veggies before roasting
  • Add to sauces and curries
  • Sprinkle on fruit salad along with cinnamon
  • Use in baked goodies such as banana bread

Beetroot

Similar to turmeric, beetroot deserves to be singled out when talking brain health! This is because beetroot contains compounds which increase blood flow to the brain. One particular compound of interest is betanin and research is currently looking into its ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are some easy ways to add beetroot to your day:

  • Use in fresh juice
  • Try beetroot hummus or beetroot dip as a snack or sandwich spread
  • Add to roasted veggies
  • Try beetroot soup!