I’m a sucker for anything that multitasks, particularly with food. I’m on an eternal quest to find ingredients and products that taste good while also providing extra benefits—brain health being at the top of my list. It’s a benefit many people are looking for in their food these days—hence the popularity of functional mushroom drinks and other adaptogenic, brain-fog-clearing products.
I figured that if there’s anyone who knows the best foods for brain health, it would be a neurologist. So, I asked Kiran Rajneesh, MBBS, a neurologist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, what foods he eats every single day to support his own brain.
The first thing he told me wasn’t related to food at all. “Hydration is a key component [of brain health],” he says. “I drink plenty of water and try to keep track by filling a water bottle and going through it several times a day.” To his point, not drinking enough H20 can contribute to feeling tired and sluggish, two key symptoms of brain fog.
Besides water, Dr. Rajneesh says there are several foods on his brain health list that he eats every day. He says he always snacks on fruits and nuts at some point since they’re both high in antioxidants. “Antioxidants are an important dietary need to repair neurons and keep them in prime function,” he says. Fruit is typically high in antioxidants, and nuts themselves come with their own unique brain-boosting perks. “Nuts also have antioxidants and essential fatty acids which play an important part in the repair of nerve cells,” he says. “I try to incorporate nuts into my breakfast or just have as a snack during my morning drive in the car.”
Dr. Rajneesh prioritizes getting antioxidants in at every meal, including lunch and dinner. “Vegetables and greens are a good way to do this,” he says. “I eat one to two cups of steamed veggies every day.” He also leans toward a plant-based diet; beans and legumes are his go-to’s and he minimizes the amount of red meat he eats. “I like eating beans boiled, mashed, or in a curry,” he says. One study conducted on almost 9,000 middle-age to elderly participants in Canada found that those who consumed less fruits, vegetables, nuts, and pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) were more likely to experience cognitive decline. So there’s a good reason all these foods make up the majority of Dr. Rajneesh’s diet.
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of chickpeas:
When he’s preparing his foods, Dr. Rajneesh says he likes to use a lot of spices linked to benefitting brain health, too. His favorites: turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon. “I try to incorporate these into my meats and beans as I prepare them for dinner or lunch,” he says. Research shows that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) may have a significant effect on memory and attention in adults aged 50 to 90 who had mild memory complaints. Garlic is not only linked to lowering inflammation but also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6 and magnesium—both linked to boosting mood and improving brain health. And cinnamon has shown to potentially have neuroprotective benefits in Parkinson’s patients.
What Dr. Rajneesh’s eating habits show is that there are a lot of foods linked to brain health, which allows for plenty of ways to get creative. “Remember, there is no perfect diet formula,” he says. “Attempt to do what you can with baby steps. Only you know your life and your body.”
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