- Nutrition -

Smarter Eats

Total health is about more than your body — it’s about your brain, too. These nourishing recipes can help improve your focus, memory, and mood.

bok-choy

I believe people think more about keeping their butts and bellies trim than they do about keeping their brains fit. When we get so wrapped up in our appearance, we make food choices based on what we think our bodies need in order to look a certain way, without realizing that how we feed our bodies affects the health of our brains — and vice versa.

That’s one of the reasons my husband, Daniel, and I work to teach people how to use their minds to make meaningful changes to their overall health. When you fuel your mind properly by eating well, you make better decisions — not just about your food, but about everything. You’ll also sleep better, have stronger relationships, be more empathetic, and show greater resilience, all because your mind is operating at an optimal decision-making level.

The very act of eating well has become a war for many people. If you’ve ever been sick, or cared for someone with a chronic condition, you know that it often feels like you’ve been in combat. I’ve had cancer four times, and I can tell you that getting back to health was truly a battle. We survive challenges like these by how well we achieve mental focus — this is why Daniel and I call ourselves Brain Warriors.

We teach that the foods we need for mind and body are high-quality proteins, carbohydrates that are low on the glycemic index but high in fiber, healthy fats, and vegetables and fruits that let you “eat the rainbow.”

The recipes that follow will help you focus on how to feed your body and mind — because when you do that, you’ll enjoy more energy, a better memory, and many other benefits.

Sunrise Grainless Granola

Starting your day with smart carbohydrates like those in this homemade granola not only feeds your brain, but also balances the metabolism hormones that send the signal to your brain that you’re full and satisfied. You’ll be less likely to crave unhealthy snacks later.

grainless-granolaImage by Amen Clinics
Makes 12 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes

  • Coconut oil (as oil or nonstick cooking spray)
  • 1⁄2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped cashews
  • 1⁄2 cup walnut halves
  • 1⁄2 cup pecan halves
  • 1⁄2 cup pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • 1⁄2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped goji berries or dates
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp. water
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup

Optional Ingredients

  • 1⁄2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 tsp. salt
  • Almond, coconut, or hemp milk
  • Yogurt
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Grease or spray a large baking sheet with coconut oil.
  2. Add nuts, seeds, coconut, and goji berries or dates to a food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture is coarsely chopped to the consistency of granola (be careful not to overprocess). Depending on the size of your processor, you may have to do this in two batches. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk egg white, water, and maple syrup. Add vanilla and spices as desired. Mix well. Slowly drizzle the egg mixture over the nut-and-seed blend. Mix well with clean hands, covering granola mixture with a light coat of the liquid.
  4. Spread mixture evenly over a large baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until mixture is dry and forms small clusters. Remove from heat and allow to cool prior to serving.
  5. Serve with almond, coconut, or hemp milk, or yogurt of your choice.
  6. Place remaining granola in an airtight container. Freeze leftover granola within several days.

Tip: To improve the digestibility of the nuts, you can soak them for up to 24 hours and then dehydrate in the oven (150 degrees F) for 12 to 24 hours before making the granola.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

Lentils are a superlative brain food. Not only are they affordable (they cost less than $1 per serving), they’re packed with dietary fiber and protein.

lentil-soupImage by Amen Clinics
Makes eight servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth or 1 tbs. coconut oil for sautéing
  • 4 celery stalks, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups water
  • 6 cups unsalted vegetable broth or bone broth
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 1/4 cup brown rice
  • 1⁄2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbs. lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • Garlic salt (optional)
  • 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the vegetable broth or coconut oil. Sauté celery, carrot, bell pepper, onion, and garlic for about five minutes.
  2. Add water and vegetable broth to the pot. Stir in the lentils and rice. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes.
  3. Stir in curry powder, cumin, lemon pepper, and pepper; add garlic salt to taste if desired. Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until lentils fall apart and mixture thickens. Stir in lemon juice.
  4. Ladle soup into bowls and serve hot.

Tip: Lentils are an excellent source of vitamin B1 (also called thiamine), which helps the nervous system and brain function properly.

Prosciutto Maple Salmon

Salmon is a fantastic source of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that is crucial for brain health. DHA makes up much of your brain’s gray matter (which is involved in memory, emotions, and decision making, among other things) and contributes to cellular growth and neuronal function. For this recipe, you can bake or pan-fry the salmon.

salmonImage by Amen Clinics
Makes two servings
Prep time: five minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 2 4- to 6-oz. salmon fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 slices uncured prosciutto or ham
  • 1 tbs. ghee, macadamia-nut oil, or coconut oil
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F if you will be cooking in the oven.
  2. Rinse salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Wrap salmon in prosciutto or ham.
  4. Heat ghee or oil in a medium oven-safe pan on medium-high heat. Place fillets in the pan and cook for about two minutes on each side until the ham is light golden brown.
  5. If cooking in the oven, brush both sides of the salmon with maple syrup. Transfer the entire pan to the oven. Bake for five to 10 minutes depending on preferred doneness.
  6. If you choose to pan-fry, simply turn the burner down to medium; turn the fish every minute or two for five to seven minutes depending on preferred doneness. Brush the top of the salmon with maple syrup during the final two minutes of cooking.
  7. Remove from the oven or stove and transfer to a serving dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Shopping tip: Opt for wild-caught salmon that had lifelong access to its natural diet, rather than salmon raised on grain in fisheries.

Peppery Bok Choy

A Chinese cabbage, bok choy is rich in antioxidants, which help produce neurotransmitters and ward off oxidative stress in the brain. It’s also a delicious way to get your vitamins C and K, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin A.

bok-choyImage by Amen Clinics
Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 1 tbs. macadamia-nut oil or coconut oil
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbs. finely minced fresh gingerroot
  • 1 to 2 tsp. crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tbs. low-sodium tamari sauce
  • 8 heads bok choy, sliced or chopped large (use both base and leafy portion)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, and sauté for about one minute. Add pepper flakes and tamari sauce to the skillet.
  2. Add the bok choy and cook for about five minutes: The leaves will turn bright green when the bok choy is cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Tip: You can use standard or baby bok choy for this recipe. If those aren’t available, cabbage is a nice substitute.

From The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes to Ignite Your Energy and Focus, Attack Illness and Aging, Transform Pain into Purpose by Daniel G. Amen, MD, and Tana Amen, published on November 22, 2016, by New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Tana Amen and Daniel G. Amen, MD.

Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need.  — The Editors

, a neurosurgery nurse turned health-and-fitness expert, is an author and nationally renowned speaker. Her husband, Daniel Amen, MD, is a psychiatrist and brain-disorder specialist who is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on using brain-imaging tools to optimize treatment for neurological issues. Together they direct the Amen Clinics and are coauthors of The Brain Warrior’s Way and The Brain Warrior’s Way Cookbook.

Image by Amen Clinics

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