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Annette Wick - Feeding Our Brains in Summertime

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The centerpiece of my kitchen island is a large bowl, spilling over with fresh produce from the farmer’s market. Bulbs of sweet onions, fennel, and Hungarian peppers round out the bunch. My husband says I’ve bought up the entire farm. But one of my gifts is turning the mish mash of vegetables into a healthy summer meal.

There are so many ways to “eat your vegetables” without echoes of your mother in your ear. There are also many reasons to do so, including keeping your brain healthy.

That’s what I tell my husband. And research backs me up on this topic.

Brain Food is Everywhere

New York City hosts every type of restaurant one can imagine. Finding one that is all about brain food health is not difficult. Honeybrains restaurant was the creation of a nutritionist and neurologist. They create menus based on the science of neuronutrition, which is defined as “the nutrition needed to achieve health brain and neurocognitive function.” Diets rich in antioxidants, vitamins, flavonoids, and polyphenolic compounds will help suppress the onset of Alzheimer's disease,” according to Wannee Jiraungkorrskul, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a research study on spinach’s ability to impact our brains.

To mark National Alzheimer’s Awareness month in June, staff from the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement reached out to the restaurant to partner on developing a brain healthy salad for their menu. They incorporated leafy greens to maximize one’s intake of Vitamin K, folate, and iron, including the dark greens which are best for you. The salad included berries, rich in flavonoids which have been shown to help reduce the impact of Alzheimer’s. Legumes were incorporated to add protein, fiber and isoflavones. Salmon was the star, which WAM recommended slow roasting the fish as opposed to cooking over a high heat and releasing carcinogens.

Their recommendations were based on the seven elements of the popular MIND diet, which is a merging of two plant-based diets, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet meant to reduce hypertension.

Brain Health versus Brain Food

Food does not make up all the components necessary for a brain-healthy lifestyle.

Maria Shriver, longtime journalist, and prominent advocate for the Alzheimer’s Movement, especially for women, says we must move away from the narrative of aging, and look toward what we can control. Our eating and our lifestyle.

“We are beginning to know what a brain-healthy lifestyle is.” Shriver says in an interview with Parade Magazine. “We know that many of the cases of Alzheimer’s might be preventable if people have different lifestyles. That doesn’t mean that those who have Alzheimer’s were bad or did something wrong. But this whole space is awakening to intervention, to different ways of thinking.”

We all have days when our focus is off, and we know we must pay attention to our cognitive health. Now, we are learning to stop and wonder why that is. What did I do or not do today that was different from yesterday? Was it exercise, was it what I ate, was it what I watched before I went to bed last night? We begin to take notice of how food, sleep, and a well-rounded social life might have impact on our balanced lives.

According to the Sleep Association, the eleven worst foods to eat before bed include chocolate, tomatoes, cheese, ice cream, high fat, high sugar, water (to eliminate sleep disruption), onions, donuts, dried fruit, alcohol, caffeine, chips, and energy drinks. The list contains plenty of foods which are not incorporated into the MIND diet, but remember that fun must still be a key ingredient in life.

My father’s nighttime routine included a bowl of ice cream before bed, every night. Then, he was diagnosed with blocked arteries at age 75. After his procedure, he pridefully bought his favorite flavor, Chocolate Ripple, in the low-fat version and continued to try a variety of ice creams. He never stopped eating ice cream before bed. Certain things were non-negotiable. He also maintained a thriving garden in the backyard of our home, which produced a lifetime supply of greens. It turns out, we didn’t need to eat as much fish as my mother insisted on. We only need to consume more of what he grew out back.

Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker, and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours, a journey of cookies and caregiving. (Three Arch Press). A frequent contributor to Cincinnati.com, her work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, nextavenue.com, Still Point Arts, 3rd Act Magazine, Ovunque Siamo, Belt Magazine (forthcoming) and others. Visit annettejwick.com to learn more.