S2E20. Brain-Healthy Menu Plan

I’ve written often about your diet’s effect on your brain’s health, but it occurred to me that I haven’t yet put all the pieces together to demonstrate that it’s possible to incorporate this kind of diet into a daily routine. I’ll try to do that now.

One of the things that has always bothered me about diet recommendations is the idea that you have to have X many servings of various foods every day or week. I just don’t have the patience to measure things out to see if I’ve got enough to meet the criteria for a ‘serving,’ nor do I possess the discipline to keep track of all of those servings to see if I’ve met the goal. 

Working that hard can take all the joy out of eating!

Instead, I’ve developed a practical approach (some would call it a rationalization!) toward eating. Here are the 3 key points:

1. You can only eat but so much in a day or a week, so eat when you’re hungry and eat things you like that fit your diet plan. I have faith that your body will figure out how to maximize the benefit from the selection you offer it as long as you provide it with a buffet that covers all the basic areas, like Omega3 fats, antioxidants, etc. A little of something good is better than none at all, and it’s probably good enough when you just can’t work the recommended volumes into your plan.

2. Except for #3 below, everything you put in your mouth should provide some nutrient that is protective of your brain.

3. There is no such thing as cheating. So what if you eat something you shouldn’t every so often? What’s the big deal? Maintaining brain health is a long-term project that plays out over decades. The more days I eat all the right things, the better off I am. But it’s not fatal if I have a piece of cake or a hamburger once in a while. It might set my project back a day or two, but that’s not so terrible and it’s more than offset by the soul-satisfying lift I get from eating something that’s taboo. Bottom line: your eating lifestyle should be guilt free!

Let me offer one disclaimer before showing you what I eat:

I’m not recommending that you adopt my diet. I’m just trying to demonstrate that a brain-healthy diet is do-able. Only you can decide what will work for you: what times of the day, how often, and what you like to eat. So I’m not going to give you a ‘meal plan,’ per se. It’s more like an outline to help get you started. 

The diet that emerged for me was the result of my researching brain health in order to write this blog. As I learned about foods that contained important nutrients and compounds, I tried to add them to my diet. Having eaten this way for nearly a year now, I don’t remember what foods provide what benefits, but I can tell you that everything I swallow has a purpose based on the research.

Finally, before showing you what I eat, it’s important to show you what I don’t eat: products with added sugars of any kind, rice, grains (except for oats), dairy (except for kefir), refined flour, bread, fried foods, white potatoes, beef and pork. It sounds pretty restrictive, but it’s actually not all that bad.

Oh yeah…I almost forgot…the goal is to use all organic ingredients.

Here’s what my diet looks like:

Morning Tea: I try to do a 14-hour overnight fast each day, so I stop eating at 7:30pm the night before and have breakfast at 9:30am the next morning. Since I wake up hungry, though, I have 2 cups of tea at around 8:00am to hold me over. Decaf green tea is preferred, but I don’t like the taste all that much, so I mix ½ tablespoon of green tea leaves with an equal amount of mint leaves and then add ½ teaspoon of mixed turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper.

Breakfast: It’s the same thing every day: homemade granola with fruit. And it never gets old! It’s now my favorite meal. I linger over and savor every mouthful. Here are the ingredients: oats, chopped walnuts, pecans and almonds, turmeric, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, flaked coconut, flax seed, chia seed, oat bran, figs, prunes, apples, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes, with flax milk.

(I added oats to the mix after I wrote ‘A Granola Ritual’ because I wanted help in lowering my LDL (bad) cholesterol.)

As you can see, I pack a ton of brain-healthy goodies into this one meal. 

Lunch: Well…not really. I get hungry between noon and 2:00pm, but I don’t prepare anything that could legitimately be called ‘lunch.’ More accurately, I nosh…usually standing up. I know, I know…I should sit down when I eat…but I’m hungry!

I hope this doesn’t gross you out, but my go-to noshes are pickled herring, homemade sauerkraut and seaweed salad. Hummus with vegetables, guacamole, and a few mouthfuls of dinner leftovers are also on the noshing menu. So are oranges and almonds.

Post-workout hydration: 1 pint pomegranate juice made with 1 part juice and 2 parts filtered water.

Dinner: One of the joys of adopting this food lifestyle is trying out new recipes…and being surprised that things taste as good as they do! Here is a list of the items that have become staples of my evening meals: salmon, chicken, shrimp, eggs, kale, quinoa, roasted vegetables (eggplant, acorn squash, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, carrots), mackerel salad with celery, grapes and walnuts, spinach, asparagus, salad (spring mix, grape tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange & green), mushrooms, anchovies, avocado, parsley, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice), red lentil pasta, and 4 ounces of organic pinot noir.

Although garlic isn’t mentioned above, it, too, is a staple. You’re not doing it right if you’re not mincing garlic every day!

Dessert: This is the same every night: a half cup of homemade banana-strawberry kefir with a quarter cup of oat milk, a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and some stevia to make it sweet enough to pass as a dessert.

Bon appetit!

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