16 Feb Brainy Salad— update
How do you make a salad that’s good for your brain? Well, it doesn’t have to be too complicated. You can pick and choose from the 9 ingredients listed below. Maybe mix it up a little, so that you can enjoy several different varieties.
Before we get to the ingredients, it’s important to know that salads, in general, may promote brain health by virtue of being part of a ketogenic diet (high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate).
Ketogenic diet and your brain:
Some doctors have recommended diets that increase brain ketone levels as part of the regimen to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. Others claim that high ketone levels may be of benefit in neurological disorders, including headache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and even brain cancer. Researchers reported that ketogenic diets may improve memory performance, verbal skills and processing of thoughts in cognitively impaired individuals, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease. Neurological improvements have also been reported in the mental processes of non demented elderly individuals and those with Parkinson’s disease.
What might ketones be doing to benefit the brain?
Under conditions of starvation, intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet, the brain may use ketones as its major energy source. Ketones have antioxidant properties. They decrease the production of oxidizing molecules, and enhance their breakdown. Ketones reduce brain inflammation by increasing certain poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Higher levels of ketones increase the number of mitochondria, so called “energy factories” in brain cells. A recent study found that ketones enhanced mitochondrial activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for learning and memory. Ketones trigger the release of a brain molecule called BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor), a molecule that strengthens neurons (brain cells) and improves learning and memory.
Under ordinary circumstances the brain runs on glucose (sugar), which it burns differently than ketones. Some scientists have reported that metabolic switching between the two different types of fuel may optimize brain function and resilience. Scientists have reported that metabolic switching impacts multiple signalling pathways that promote neuroplasticity (ability of neurons to change structure and function) and resistance of the brain to injury and disease. There may be particular benefits on the neuronal circuits involved in cognition and mood.
Ingredients for a brainy salad:
- Start with a bed of spinach.
Spinach is rich in nutrients that are good for your brain, such as folate, iron, calcium and vitamins E and K. Evidence from the MIND diet (a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets) demonstrated that a diet that includes leafy greens may keep your brain seven and a half years younger and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent.
- Add some onions
Onions are bad for your breath, but good for your brain.
Japanese researchers discovered that people suffering from memory loss who added onions to their diets reported improvements in their ability to recall. Onions may be helpful to the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is involved in processing emotions as well as memory.
One antioxidant found in onions binds with harmful toxins in the brain and flushes them out of the body. The sulphur-containing compound, which has been shown to slow down the deterioration of memory usually associated with ageing, is also found in garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives.
- A salad without its tomato is sad.
Whether you pronounce it to MAYto or to MAHto, it’s good for your brain. Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant, lycopene, which can help protect the neurons (brain cells) from free radical damage.
- Throw in some avocado.
Avocados add a creamy texture and rich taste to the brainy salad. They also are chock full of monounsaturated fats. This improves blood flow to the brain.
- Slice and dice some cucumbers.
Cucumbers may improve your memory and protect your nerve cells from age-related decline. They contain an anti-inflammatory (polyphenol) flavonol called fisetin.
And they smell so fresh
- Shred some cheese on top.
Cheese activates the reward center of your brain.
The main protein in cheese is casein. When you digest casein, your body breaks it down into casomorphin. Casomorphins cross the blood-brain barrier and attach to dopamine receptors on neurons (brain cells). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to feelings of pleasure and reward. Casomorphins may have an important evolutionary purpose: they promote the strong bond between mammal mother and baby.
- Anchovies are not just for Caesar salads.
Anchovies have an abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids (essential to your brain and nervous system). Like other fatty fish, they have both forms of omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
DHA is one of the molecular building blocks of the brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina.
EPA is important in lowering the bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ), which can help prevent stroke.
- A brainy salad needs a clever dressing
Wondering whether to put ranch or balsamic on that salad?
Do your brain a favor and go for something that has a red wine vinegar base. Balsamic is delicious. But all red wine vinegars contain powerful polyphenol antioxidants, including resveratrol. They also have antioxidant pigments called anthocyanins.
The array of oil choices is dizzying. But which one is best for your brain?
Olive oil wins out because it boasts antioxidants, called polyphenols, which improve brain health. And for a double bonus use an extra virgin. Scientific studies suggest extra-virgin olive oil lowers the rate of stroke.
- Add some protein and make it a meal.
A salad can become lunch or dinner if you add fresh fish (especially with some beautiful char marks from the grill. It becomes a real brain booster if the catch of the day is salmon or mackerel.
A good balance of fats is essential to maintain a healthy brain blood flow. Omega fatty acids are the most beneficial. But not all Omega fatty acids are the same. Omega 3, the type found in salmon and mackerel, is the best type in this family of fatty acids. Omega 9, found in avocado and olives is also good to improve brain blood flow. Omega 6 fatty acids, found in soybeans and some nuts, are the least healthful for brain health (although still better than other types of fat).