As we age, it is more important than ever to be cognizant of the foods we put into our bodies and how they relate to our brain and heart health. You may remember when your parents advised that you eat your fruit and vegetables because they were good for you. Or when they suggested that healthy eating would make us smarter. Back then, it may have seemed like an exaggeration. Fast forward fifty years, and what do you know… they were right!
Eating the right foods such as fruit, vegetables, fish, grains, and yes, even chocolate, not only does a body good, but certain foods are especially beneficial in protecting the brain, nerve cells and blood vessels from the damage of aging. A diet rich in the proper nutrients will not only support brain and heart health but will boost your alertness, memory, and mood. It sounds like a “no-brainer!”
The Struggle To Eat Healthy
We all want delicious, simple, affordable, and sometimes quick meals. However, figuring it all out is where it can get dicey. People are busier today than ever before, and our lifestyles are such that we may feel challenged in maintaining a healthy balance for eating and living. And that doesn’t change as we grow older and perhaps lack the energy to be creative in the kitchen.
Working long hours, being housebound due to illness or lack of mobility, living in the city without a car, or simply not being able to cook are all factors that do not have to be obstacles when it comes to getting the right foods on the table.
Below are a few tips to help you incorporate better habits when it comes to meal planning, food selection, and smart eating as you age. With some of these suggestions, you and your loved ones can enjoy a nutritionally sound diet that is easy to assimilate into a busy schedule, and enjoyable enough to sustain for years to come …or rather the rest of your life!
Let’s start with “brain foods”, or “smart foods.” They are smart for a reason. They have tremendous benefits for both brain and heart health, most with properties that combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and high blood pressure, and they are delicious!
Best Foods for Brain and Heart Health
Fruits and Vegetables
Spinach and leafy greens. These nutrient-dense vegetables are rich in magnesium and full of antioxidant power. Veggies like swiss chard, collard greens, and spinach are high in folate, B12, and B6 vitamins, which are required to break down homocysteines, which are a normal part of protein metabolism. High levels of homocysteines are linked with cognitive decline, heart disease, and dementia.
Try This: Line your plate with a handful of arugula before placing the entree on top; mix a cup of baby spinach into whole-grain pasta; throw a handful of spinach with fruit in a smoothie (you won’t even taste it!).
Blueberries. Blueberries offer many health benefits. They are full of antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory compounds, and may improve memory loss. Blueberries are also known to have a positive effect on arteries intricate in blood vessels in the brain, lowering the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
Try This: Mix blueberries (and other mixed dark berries) into a smoothie; throw berries on top of your morning cereal; top a salad with blueberries and nuts.
Oranges. Your body cannot make Vitamin C, but it is essential for better eyesight and healthy brain cells. Oranges are also rich in flavonoids, shown to improve memory and cognition.
Try this: Fresh oranges with breakfast instead of concentrate; eat an orange instead of a cookie – it will naturally feel like a dessert!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Salmon. Fatty fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Higher levels of omegas produce higher levels of serotonin, which is a mood-enhancing brain chemical. Studies have shown a positive effect on learning acquisition and memory performance.
Try this: Swap salmon for chicken on top of a salad; have fish tacos instead of beef; have a tuna sandwich instead of turkey or roast beef.
Nuts. Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds, are rich in antioxidants, vitamin E and omega-3s. They have been found to lower blood cholesterol levels and have significant brain benefits. A Harvard study showed that women who ate more than five ounces per week had a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who did not.
Try this: Raw nuts are a great snack instead of chips; toss almonds into a salad; throw some cashews into a stir fry.
Olive Oil. High in monounsaturated fats (the “good fats”) and polyphenols. It is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been shown to improve memory, protect against heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Try This: Substitute light olive oil instead of vegetable oil; baste veggies with olive oil instead of butter.
Dark Chocolate and Red Wine. You didn’t think I would forget to bring up chocolate again, did you?! A little misnomer in regards to chocolate and red wine… they are more than decadent indulgences. They have redeeming qualities in that a few ounces of dark chocolate or cocoa powder can provide brain-boosting compounds such as flavonoids, antioxidants, and dopamine. They can improve blood circulation to the brain, stimulating endorphin production which is a natural mood booster. Feel free to enjoy, but in moderation, of course!
Shopping for Brain Healthy Foods
The grocery store can be tough to navigate with aisle after aisle of “organic,” “natural,” “immune-boosting,” and “gluten-free” foods. It’s hard to know which foods are the smartest choices. Sticking to the perimeter of the store will help you avoid canned and packaged foods that tend to have ingredients like excessive sodium that your diet can do without.
- Produce: The produce section is the most colorful section of the store and the healthiest. Choose a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. The colors signify vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
- Bread, Grains, and Pasta: Choose whole wheat, brown grain mixes, quinoa, bulgur, and barley rather than starchy whites.
- Frozen and Canned Foods: Frozen fruits and veggies will fill gaps when you can’t get your hands on fresh options. Choose cans without sauce, added salt and sugar, and low-fat, low sodium soup.
Planning is half the battle. Having a list of items based on a weekly meal plan will have you in and out of the grocery store with a cart of healthy staples for meals and the cupboard. A tip: never shop when you are hungry! Everything looks appealing, and you will likely end up with things you did not intend to buy that are probably not the healthiest.
Boston Food Delivery Options
For some, getting to the grocery store can be difficult. Fortunately, living in the Boston or metropolitan areas provides a ton of delivery options, fitting just about every budget and need imaginable. Some options below:
Grocery Store Delivery
Boston Organics provides organic fresh produce and grocery items, sourced from regional farms. Boxed items come in a variety of sizes catered to families and businesses large and small. No fees and free delivery.
Whole Foods is a national chain with locations in Boston and the metropolitan area. They provide personal shopping and delivery on a per-item fee structure.
Online Meal Plans
HelloFresh provides weekly meal plans to fit lifestyle and preferences, delivered to your door. Healthy meals with step-by-step recipes, signature plans and family plans are offered.
Blue Apron provides high quality and sustainably grown foods. Weekly meal plans for two or families, with step-by-step recipes delivered to your door. Skip or cancel anytime.
Personal Chef Services in Boston
Why a personal chef? You may have a one-time event, you may be interested in cooking lessons, you may not have time to cook, or you have dietary needs associated with a medical condition. In-home professional services provided by some of Boston’s best chefs focus on delivering home-cooked, nutritious meals in your own home. Check out:
Chef Gloria B. , who specializes in home-cooked meals and using immune-boosting ingredients, perfect for those with medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, IBS, cancer, and people undergoing cancer treatment. Her services include personal chef services, cooking classes, and nutritional counseling. Healthy eating counseling sessions are also available on Facetime for recipes and recommendations.
Your Kitchen Confidant, Lisa Caldwell, located in Chestnut Hill, serves the greater Boston and metropolitan area. Lisa is a chef, nutritionist, and corporate wellness educator. Lisa takes care of the shopping for simple and inexpensive ingredients and will cook in her home or the client’s home. Cookware cleaning, packaging, and delivery are available
It is easy to be weighed down by commitments or find excuses that steer us away from our health goals. Structuring your schedule (days/weeks/months) to incorporate your meal planning/menus and shopping time, including a delivery service or hiring a consultant, are commitments to eating smart for your brain and heart health.