If something as simple as reaching for the right foods from your pantry could keep you smart and thin, wouldn’t you pay attention? Research shows that improving brain function and reaching or maintaining a healthy weight really might be that easy, and the bonus is that the recommendations are also delicious and can benefit our overall health and longevity.
In his new book, Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly, neurosurgeon Larry McCleary reveals his latest research showing that eating certain foods can improve our brain function. Eating those same foods can also moderate our appetites and help us lose weight.
Fortunately, the kinds of foods that Dr. McCleary recommends below and in his book are the same ones we Scramblers are getting in our diets by cooking and eating healthy, homemade meals with lots of lean proteins, produce, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and plenty of herbs and spices.
One strong recommendation Dr. McCleary makes in the book (and one I’ve heard from many other nutrition experts) is to eat and cook with coconut oil more often. I’ve started using it and find that it cooks as well as olive oil and has a pleasant flavor. Try using it next time you make scrambled eggs or sauté some onions.
I “devoured” the book in an afternoon, and it inspired me to keep feeding my family delicious, healthy meals. I think it would appeal to many of you as well, either for yourselves or as a gift for aging parents (many of whom wonder how to retain their sharp minds) or friends interested in eating a healthier diet.
Here’s more from my conversation with Dr. McCleary about his book and recommended diet for a healthy brain and smaller belly:
“The brain-healthy fats include those omega-3 fats found in cold-water fish (tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, salmon, sardines, and anchovies) and from plant sources (ground flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, and green leafy veggies). Other healthy fats are called MUFAs (short for mono-unsaturated fatty acids) found in nuts, seeds, and oily fruits such as olives and avocados. One other fat superstar is coconut oil. It is a great cooking oil and has a very delicate almost sweet taste that enhances many dishes. It is changed into a super fuel for the brain, called ketones, which provide an alternative energy source for the brain, enhance mental energy, and markedly suppress appetite so you can go for hours without getting hungry.
The brain functions better when we avoid excess sugar in the form of cakes, cookies, donuts, sugary soft drinks, and other similar foods. HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup), table sugar, fructose, and starchy fruits and veggies should also be avoided. This ensures a stable supply of glucose (the sugar that is measured in our bloodstream when we visit the doctor) for the brain without the unhealthy peaks and valleys that occur when packaged and refined carbohydrates are consumed.
The “good” carbs I recommend include berries, salad greens, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, chard, kale, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and all of their neighbors in the produce section. Just remember to minimize consumption of the very starchy foods, like rice, potatoes, turnips, and the like.
These food choices will keep your brain humming along and doing all the wonderful things you need it to do, and at the same time, this dietary approach has been shown to speed weight loss.”
I hope you enjoy this week’s menu, which includes many of the foods Dr. McCleary recommends, including a recipe for Chicken and Nectarine Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing that I’ve adapted from his new book.
Chicken and Nectarine Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing
Prep + Cook = 30 minutes
4 servings, about 1 ½ cups each
This combination of flavors and textures is delectable, and it’s power food for your brain, according to neurosurgeon Larry McCleary, M.D., from whose new book, Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly, I adapted the recipe. Serve it with a whole grain baguette.
1 – 1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 nectarines, pitted and sliced
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced (1 cup)
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3 – 4 scallions, thinly sliced, green parts only (1/4 cup)
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
½ lime, juice only, about 1 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ – ½ tsp. salt, to taste
1- 2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped (optional)
Cut each chicken breast crosswise into thin strips. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and when the oil is hot, sauté the chicken, turning occasionally, until it is browned and cooked through, 5 – 7 minutes. (Set some cooked chicken, sliced nectarines and cucumber aside for non-salad eaters, if necessary.)
In a large serving bowl, combine the chicken, nectarines, cucumbers, almonds and scallions. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 Tbsp. oil, the vinegar, lime juice, honey, curry powder, ginger and salt. (Alternatively, you can shake them all up in a jar to emulsify them.) Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to coat. Gently toss in the mint (optional). Refrigerate it for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 days. (Meanwhile, warm the baguette, if you are serving it.) Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste at the table.
Do Ahead or Delegate: Slice, cook, (and refrigerate) the chicken, pit and slice the nectarines, peel, seed and slice the cucumber, slice the scallions, prepare the salad dressing.
Scramble Flavor Booster: Add a little lime zest to the dressing and/or use the optional mint.
Tip: If you’re looking to speed up the ripening process for your nectarines, place them in a brown bag and fold the top of the bag over. Let them sit on your kitchen counter and check them daily. You’ll know when they’re ripe as they will “give” slightly when pressed with a finger and they will smell sweet and delicious!
Side Dish suggestion: Serve it with a warm whole grain baguette, sliced. Alternatively, brush thin slices of the baguette with olive oil and toast or broil them for a few minutes until they are lightly browned and crispy.
Nutritional Information per serving (% based upon daily values):
Calories 392, Total Fat 21g, 32.5%, Saturated Fat 2.5g, 12.5%, Cholesterol 65.5mg, 22%, Sodium 77mg, 4%, Total Carbohydrate 22.5g, 7.5% Dietary Fiber 5g, 19% Sugar 15g, Protein 31.5g
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