For years, we’ve heard that diets featuring dark green, leafy vegetables…wild-caught fatty fish…and low-sugar fruits such as berries, olives and avocados support strong cognitive performance. But over the last decade, a number of new studies that have examined these claims have produced stunning results—brain foods can be a virtual fountain of cognitive youth.
Among the findings: A study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia by researchers at Rush University Medical Center found that people who followed the brain-food–focused “MIND diet” experienced cognitive decline so much slower than normal that it was as if their brains were 7.5 years younger. A study in Neurology by researchers affiliated with Rush University and Tufts University found that the brains of people who ate one serving of green, leafy vegetables per day were the equivalent of 11 years younger than those of people who ate these vegetables only about once every 10 days. And a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School published in Annals of Neurology found that adding at least one serving of blueberries and two servings of strawberries per week to your diet delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.
To help you eat smart, Bottom Line Personal asked Max Lugavere, author of Genius Kitchen, for his favorite brain-food–focused recipes…
Cheesy Baked Eggs with Broccoli
We were warned for decades that the cholesterol in eggs was bad for the heart. It turns out that not only are eggs not bad for the heart, they’re good for the brain. Eggs are rich in nutrients known to promote healthy brain function, including vitamin B-12, choline, copper, iodine and folate. They also contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid that improves learning ability. And broccoli is one of the vitamin K–rich dark green, leafy vegetables associated with dramatically slower cognitive aging.
This recipe substitutes nutritional yeast, a fungus with a cheeselike flavor and texture, for actual cheese. It’s a great choice for people who are lactose-intolerant, but you can use real cheese if you prefer. Yield: Four servings.
- 3 Tablespoons avocado oil, divided
- 2 cups ¼- to ½-inch broccoli florets (half a large head)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast, divided
- 2 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut cream, divided
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 4 eggs
- Hot sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Use one tablespoon of avocado oil to lightly oil four four-ounce oven-safe ramekins.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining two tablespoons of oil, broccoli and salt, and cook until the broccoli is tender at the very edges. Add two tablespoons of nutritional yeast, one tablespoon of coconut cream and the lemon zest and juice. Cook, stirring until well-combined and the broccoli is vibrant green and still firm but tender at the edges.
Remove from the heat. Divide the broccoli among the prepared ramekins, and crack an egg over each.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining one tablespoon of coconut cream and one tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and pour it over the eggs. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until eggs are set to your liking. Serve with hot sauce (optional).
Shrimp, Blueberry and Arugula Salad
Salads featuring dark leafy greens provide tremendous cognitive benefits. Blueberries add flavor and a cognitive boost, as does shrimp—a study published in Neurology by researchers from Rush University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that people who consume seafood—anything from tuna sandwiches and fish sticks to fresh fish and shellfish—at least once a week experience slower cognitive decline than those who don’t. Yield: Four servings.
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced (peel on)
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1½ teaspoons salt, divided
- 1½ cups water
- 1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
(tail-on is fine)
- 4 cups arugula
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- 1 small English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 avocados, thinly sliced
In a large saucepan, combine the lemon, garlic, peppercorns, chili flakes, three-quarter teaspoon of salt and the water. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp, and cook for five to six minutes, until the shrimp is just cooked through.
Remove the shrimp from the water (discard seasonings), and rinse in ice-cold water to prevent overcooking. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel.
In a bowl, toss together the arugula, onion, blueberries and cucumber. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, vinegar and mustard until emulsified.
Toss with the arugula mixture…top the salad with the shrimp and avocado…and serve.
Olive Oil Poached Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is high in the omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the brain—but tuna and cod also are excellent options. This recipe yields perfectly tender fish every time. It can be served as a stand-alone dish, as a topping for salad or mixed into a vegetable stir-fry. Yield: Four to six servings.
- 1 quart extra-virgin olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon, removed in large strips
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 small bunch thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
Select a pot or skillet that will fit all four salmon fillets in a single layer, and add enough oil to completely cover the salmon (leave the salmon out of the pot for now). Add the lemon zest, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and salt to the oil. Heat over low heat until the oil reaches 125°F—if you don’t have a cooking thermometer, the oil will be warm but not yet simmering or bubbling at this temperature. Gently transfer the salmon to the oil and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the salmon from the oil and serve.
Chocolate Blueberry Clusters
Blueberries’ cognitive benefits are impressive, but don’t underestimate dark chocolate—studies have found that flavonoids in dark chocolate improve cognitive function. Yield: Six servings.
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 72% cacao)—or two broken-up three-ounce chocolate bars
- 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 Tablespoon lion’s mane extract (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon monk fruit sweetener (optional if using chocolate that is 85% cacao or more)
- 2 cups fresh blueberries (make sure they are completely dry)
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and make sure there’s room to fit it level in your refrigerator.
Melt the chocolate with the oil over a double boiler or in 10-second bursts in a pot over low heat, stirring as you go until smooth and creamy. Add the lion’s mane extract, if using—if you’re not familiar with this ingredient, it’s made from lion’s mane mushrooms, and may provide an additional cognitive boost. Remove from the heat. If you used chocolate with 85% or higher cocoa content, stir in the monk fruit. Fold in the blueberries.
While the chocolate is still moldable, use a spoon to pile the blueberries in bite-sized clusters on the sheet pan, three to five berries per cluster. With a rubber spatula, scrape any remaining chocolate over the berry clusters, making sure they’re evenly coated.
Sprinkle with salt, and transfer to the refrigerator. Let chill for at least 20 minutes until firmly set.