Courtesy of Megan Elliott
While there’s nothing wrong with the predictable hunger killers – peanuts, pretzels, a piece of fruit — these go-to mini-meals are distinctly uninspired. Our weekly Man Food series will help you fight the scourge of boring snacks.
You know that eating right is good for your waistline, but that’s not the only part of your body that benefits from a healthy diet. Making smart food choices can also help your brain stay healthy, keeping your memory sharp, boosting blood flow to your noggin, and reducing cognitive decline as you get older.
“Your memory, attention span, and ability to learn will benefit from the healthful foods you choose,” Cynthia Green, Ph.D., the founder and director of the Memory Enhancement Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, told Prevention.
While we can’t promise that any of these five snacks will magically boost your IQ, including them in your diet could keep your body’s most powerful organ functioning at peak efficiency.
Our featured Crunchy Granola Wedges is the first of our 5 smart snacks to boost your bran power and one of the most popular. A growing body of evidence suggests that vitamin E, found in foods like nuts, eggs, and spinach, plays an important part in brain health. Getting enough vitamin E has been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Health reports, and a recent study published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that zebrafish that were fed a vitamin-E-deficient diet had lower levels of compounds that help to repair damaged cell membranes in the brain, Medical News Today reported.
“In a sense, if vitamin E is inadequate, we’re cutting by more than half the amount of materials with which we can build and maintain the brain,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Maret Traber of Oregon State University.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E, with one ounce of dry roasted seeds providing 37% of your recommended daily intake. These granola wedges from Eating Well include a generous dose of sunflower seeds, plus healthy whole grains.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 cup wheat flakes
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread oats, wheat flakes, and seeds on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
Coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray. Cook ½ cup honey in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, without stirring, until large foamy bubbles form and it starts to darken at the edges, 2 to 4 minutes.
Immediately pour the toasted oat mixture into the honey, add cranberries and salt and stir until completely coated. Quickly press the granola into the prepared pie pan using a heat-resistant spatula coated with cooking spray. Let cool for 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
2. Berry Snack Wrap
Blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries might help combat the accumulation of proteins in the brain that that are linked to cognitive decline, preliminary research presented at the 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society found. You can make this simple berry wrap with any of those brain-healthy berries. As an added bonus, it contains peanuts, which are a good source of vitamin E. Recipe from Food.com.
- 1 whole-wheat tortilla
- 1 to 2 ounces peanut butter
- 2 to 4 ounces strawberries, blueberries, or other berries of your choice.
Spread peanut butter on tortilla. Place berries on peanut butter.
Take two places on the edge of the tortilla and fold together over berries. Take one place where the tortilla hasn’t been folded and roll the tortilla up. Serve.
3. Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn
Studies have shown that eating flavanol-rich chocolate could boost cognitive function and improve blood flow to the brain. Plus, popcorn is rich in healthy antioxidants. This recipe from The Kitchn combines both for a sweet-and-salty snack. Because the process of refining chocolate can remove the healthy flavanols, you’ll want to look for a bar that lists the flavanol content on the package.
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
- 4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
In a medium pot, heat the oil and 3 kernels of popcorn, covered, over medium heat until all 3 kernels pop. Pour in the remaining kernels, cover pot again and shake to distribute. As the popcorn pops, shake pan occasionally and immediately remove from heat once the popping slows to 2 to 3 seconds between pops. Pour popcorn into a large bowl, removing any unpopped or partially popped kernels.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the chocolate and ½ teaspoon salt in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl. Heat in the microwave in 30-second increments until chocolate is very soft and becomes completely liquid when stirred gently. Immediately pour over the popcorn and stir to coat as thoroughly as possible. Spread evenly onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Let sit at room temperature until chocolate has hardened, about 1 hour.
4. Cajun Spiced Walnuts
Including healthy fats in your diet, like those found in nuts and olive oil, helps keep your brain healthy, according to experts. “When you consume an abundance of these types of oils and fats, then you are improving brain function,” Dr. Raphael Kellman and the author of The Microbiome Diet, told Livescience.
If you’re looking to add more healthy fats to your diet, walnuts are an excellent choice. This recipe from California Walnuts spices up plain old nuts with the addition of paprika and cayenne pepper.
- 1 egg white
- 1½ teaspoons garlic salt
- 1½ teaspoons herbs, mixed, dried
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, ground
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups walnut halves and pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a large, shallow baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix egg white, garlic salt, dried herbs, cayenne pepper, and paprika with a whisk or fork until blended.
Add walnut halves and pieces and toss until they are evenly coated, then spread on the prepared baking pan. Bake 16 to 18 minutes, stirring once after about 8 minutes, until the walnuts look dry and toasted. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
5. Lemon Tuna Avocado Snack
The monounsaturated fats in avocados can improve blood flow to the brain and may also help lower blood pressure. That’s good for your overall health and your brain in particular, as high blood pressure has been linked to cognitive decline, according to WebMD. Meanwhile, eating fatty fish like tuna may help improve your memory, Shape reported. You can get enjoy the benefits of both with this easy-to-prepare snack recipe from Martha Stewart.
- 1 ripe avocado
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 (6-ounce) can solid albacore tuna, in spring water
- 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh basil leaves, for garnish (optional)
Halve avocado lengthwise, and remove the pit. Scoop out 2 tablespoons avocado flesh from each half, and leave the shells with the remaining flesh intact.
Mash the 4 tablespoons avocado with lemon juice and olive oil until smooth. Toss with tuna, sunflower seeds, half the lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Fill halves with tuna mixture, and garnish with remaining lemon zest and basil, if desired. Serve immediately with a spoon.
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