Your brain is like a muscle, and just like the muscles you work at the gym, your brain performs better if you feed it right. Scientists have uncovered numerous connections between diet and brain health, suggesting that the food we eat really does affect our mind. While there’s no superfood that will turn you into a genius overnight, including certain nutrients in your diet might improve cognitive function, reduce your chances of developing dementia, and enhance your memory. To keep your mind sharp, try fixing one of these five “brain food” recipes.
1. Blueberry and Butternut Squash Couscous Salad
Eating blueberries may help reduce memory loss and improve coordination, researchers at Tufts University found. While these antioxidant-rich fruits are most commonly found in breakfast and dessert items, they’re just as tasty in this couscous salad recipe from The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
- 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1¼ cups chicken broth
- 1 cup raw couscous (or substitute cooked quinoa, faro, barley, or rice)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1½ cups blueberries
- ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 3 cups baby arugula
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, toss squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until tender, about 22 minutes; let cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, and cover; let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork; cool.
In a small bowl whisk together remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper; set aside. In a large bowl combine squash, scallions, blueberries, cheese, and couscous.
Spread arugula on a serving platter and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Add remaining dressing to couscous mixture; toss to combine. Serve over arugula.
2. Light Cream of Broccoli Soup
Broccoli is rich in vitamin K, which plays a role in brain function (a reduced intake of the vitamin might be related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease). Soup lovers who want to eat more broccoli can try this lighter version of cream of broccoli soup from Laura in the Kitchen.
- 1½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
- 6 cups of broccoli florets
- 4½ cups of vegetable or chicken stock, more if needed
- ¼ cup of reduced-fat half-and-half
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: Preheat a large pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, let warm, and then add the onion, garlic, celery, and potato. Sauté until the chopped veggies change slightly in color.
Add the broccoli to the pan, then pour the stock over the veggies. Simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Transfer soup to a blender and puree, or use an immersion blender to puree in the pot. Return the soup to the pot and add the half-and-half. Cook for another minute or so, then ladle into bowls and serve.
3. Pumpkin Seed Spinach Salad
A 2011 study by researchers at Duke University found that zinc plays an important role in regulating communication between brain cells and may affect our ability to develop memories. Just half a cup of pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, contains more than half of your recommended daily intake of zinc. To eat more of this nutritious food, try this pumpkin seed salad recipe from Taste of Home, which also features spinach, an excellent source of another brain food, vitamin K.
For the pumpkin seeds:
- ½ cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
- ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
- Pinch cayenne pepper
For the dressing:
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon sugar
For the salad:
- 6 ounces fresh baby spinach
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Directions: In a large skillet, toast seeds over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add sugar and seasonings. Continue to cook and stir until sugar melts, about 4 minutes. Spread mixture on waxed paper to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients until smooth. In a large salad bowl, combine the spinach, cranberries, cheese, and pumpkin seeds. Serve with dressing.
4. Spinach Linguine with Walnut Sauce
Eating a handful of walnuts may help you fight against forgetfulness. Scientists at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine found that people who regularly ate walnuts had better cognitive function than those who did not. If plain walnuts don’t sound too appetizing, trying turning them into a simple no-cook sauce for healthy spinach pasta. Recipe from Martha Stewart.
- 2 cups walnut halves
- 1 pound spinach linguine
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- ½ cup chopped parsley
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread walnut halves on a rimmed baking sheet; toast until fragrant, 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook linguine in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain; return to pot.
Process half of walnuts, cream, and garlic in a food processor until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Toss with pasta, remaining walnuts, Parmesan, and parsley. Serve with more Parmesan.
5. Baked Salmon with Garlic and Dijon
Suffering from mood swings or a poor memory? A diet low in omega-3 fatty acids could be to blame. In addition to possibly reducing your risk of developing heart disease and cancer, these essential fatty acids also affect your brain’s memory and performance. Fatty fish like tuna and salmon and are excellent sources of omega-3s, and you can feed your brain tonight by preparing this easy baked salmon dish from Natasha’s Kitchen.
- 1½ pound salmon fillet
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, pressed
- ½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ⅛ cup light olive oil (not extra-virgin)
- 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- Lemon slices
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a rimmed baking dish with aluminum foil. Add the parsley, pressed garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. (Don’t use extra-virgin olive oil; you want something with a higher smoke point.)
Slice salmon into 4 evenly sized portions (more or less depending on the size of your fillet) and place them skin-side down on the prepared baking pan. Using a brush, coat both the fish (top and sides) with the sauce. Top with slices of lemon.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until salmon is just cooked through (be careful not to overcook). Serve immediately.
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