Summertime Foods for Brain Health
School’s almost out and it’s time for your kids to kick up their feet and enjoy the warm weather. Now is also the time to hit the farmer’s market and take advantage of the fresh nutrient-rich summertime foods that will keep those brains sharp and humming through the dog days.
How to maintain a strong brain
Your body creates potentially damaging chemicals, called free radicals, through natural processes. Many of the life-supporting nutrients we get from plants function as antioxidants, binding to free radicals and neutralizing them so they can’t do damage. You might have heard of betacarotene, polyphenols, carotenoids, anthocyanins; these are plant chemicals known for their antioxidant activity. Certain micronutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and selenium also act as antioxidants.
Antioxidants protect brain tissue from free radical damage and reduce inflammation. An insufficient intake of antioxidants can be a contributing factor to depression, anxiety, poor memory, inattention, and many other health conditions. Take advantage of the fresh antioxidant-rich foods that are becoming plentiful this time of year
Fresh Foods To Focus On
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a direct source of antioxidants, as well as fibre and an array of other beneficial nutrients. Certain foods are also being researched for their ability to stimulate the body’s own synthesis of antioxidants. Here are some summertime foods that will increase your antioxidant levels and keep your brain sharp!
Lettuce, spinach, kale, beet greens, and chard are all high in antioxidant phytochemicals. If you find it a challenge getting these into your kids, here are a few things to try:
- Grind them in a food processor before adding to your cooking.
- Use a juicer to juice them and then use the juice in smoothies or popsicles. (You don’t get the fibre this way, but you do extract most of the phytochemicals!)
- Blend them whole into smoothies.
- Dehydrate them on very low heat, grind them into a powder and sprinkle the powder on foods.
- Model healthy eating by having a salad with each evening meal. Even if your children won’t eat it, having them see you eat it will make their acceptance of these foods more likely. Allow them to modify the salad--even if they only have "lettuce salad"!
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts
While these are a great direct source of flavonoids, carotenoids, and other antioxidants, they are also now being researched for their ability to stimulate antioxidant production in the body.
If you have trouble getting your children to eat broccoli, try steaming it, grinding it up in a food processor and adding it to sauces. You can make broccoli sprouts at home or look for them at the market in the summer. They have a delicate flavour and can be tossed into salads, used to top burgers, are excellent in soups and even ground into smoothies (I have tried blending broccoli florets into a smoothie...it didn’t go over well! Go for the sprouts instead).
Berries, grapes, and cherries
Dark colored berries like blueberries and blackberries contain flavonoids and anthocyanins. Much of the power is in the skins when it comes to berries, so you don’t always get the full effect with juice. Incorporate these, fresh or frozen, into smoothies, popsicles, parfaits, or eat them as a refreshing snack.
Nothing says summer like fresh watermelon. Its sweetness is just a bonus on top of its hydrating capacity. Watermelon is high in lycopene, beta carotene, and vitamin C -- all health supportive antioxidants!
Fresh is Best
Heat, light, oxygen, and time are factors that degrade the quality of many antioxidants. So, while technically a food like blueberries are high in antioxidants, blueberries from Chili that were harvested 3 months ago and shipped to North America will have a lower antioxidant value than blueberries picked yesterday at the farm just out of town.
So take advantage of the season and go hit your local farmer’s market or CSA to find these fresh, whole, antioxidant-rich foods that support the brain. Come September those little brains will still be fresh, strong and ready to learn.
Healthy summertime popsicles
- 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
- 1/2 cup plain kefir
- 1 cup fresh or frozen dark colored berries
- 2 leaves of romaine lettuce, spinach, or a small handful of broccoli sprouts (if you don’t have a high powered blender, you might want to use a dehydrated “greens” supplement instead)
Blend everything in your blender and pour into popsicle moulds. Freeze and enjoy!