Eat your way to brain health

We’ve teamed up with a local chef to bring you 4 brain-friendly recipes.

To provide a bit of tasty inspiration, we’ve teamed up with Tom from MudBugs restaurant to create four brain-friendly recipes based on the Mediterranean and MIND diets to tickle your tastebuds.

Lemon Mint Salmon Roasted Squash Ratatouille

Lentil Daal

Jerk Chicken Cassoulet

Smoked Herring Pasta Bake

Food glorious food!

From a Sunday roast with all the trimmings (Yorkshire puds and gravy are a must!), to a well-balanced post-exercise pick-me-up; food plays an important role in our lives, socially, emotionally and of course nutritionally.

But, did you know that increasingly research is showing that a balanced diet may also be crucial to keep our brains healthy?

I once saw a human brain as part of my undergraduate degree in neuroscience and I can honestly say it was rather uninspiring to look at, just a crumpled pink-ish grey-ish lump with a consistency a bit like modelling clay. However, what was hard to appreciate was the sheer number of brain cells snaking their way around inside that small pinkish-grey blob. It’s estimated that the adult brain houses around 86 billion neurons, alongside a further 86 billion non-neuronal cells which are essential to provide the correct environment to keep the neurons firing. So, there’s a lot happening up there!

For those 86 billion neurons to keep firing, make new connections and help us function they need the right nutrition. In fact, people of all ages who eat a good diet report feeling sharper and more mentally agile.

But what is a brain healthy diet?

It’s largely accepted that no single food can act as a ‘silver bullet’, so although blueberries may be great for brain health, they won’t help you much if they are only ever served on top of waffles and ice-cream. It’s all about achieving a balance and eating a combination of healthy foods, while cutting down on others.

As a rule, experts recommend a diet where there are plenty of fruit, vegetables, oily fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and a moderate amount of red wine/dark chocolate, tea and coffee. Whilst they also suggest that we cut down on red meat, white rice, bread, sugars, full fat dairy and salt.

Interestingly, the research also shows that good bacteria in our guts can help keep our brains sharp, so fermented foods (for example pickled vegetables and pro-biotic yogurt); and foods which encourage the growth of good bacteria such as banana, ginger, broccoli and dark chocolate may help keep our brains working at their best.

It’s also never too late to start eating a healthy diet, and small changes can make a big difference, so adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while cutting down on the ice-cream waffles (without cutting them out entirely) can still lead to huge benefits.

Tom’s been a chef for over 10 years and has had a passion for cooking since primary school. You can tell how much he cares about his work by the way he speaks about food, drifting easily into vivid descriptions of ingredients and the best ways to prepare them. He also has an intimidating knowledge of food science, which may have come from his time studying an undergraduate in physics at The University of Manchester.

His cuisine of choice is Creole. This is a style of cooking which holds a special place in his heart, transporting him back to his childhood in the American deep south. Food was a lifestyle there, and the smell of smoking meat reminds him of the music and laughter of the streets of Louisiana. He also notes that Creole is unusual enough to be seen in the UK as something a bit different and special, but with tastes and smells still familiar enough not to be off-putting; he adds with a smile that his Creole cuisine pop-up kitchen went down very well at Todmorden Farmers Market and if he can impress a group of Yorkshire farmers with his cooking, he must be doing something right.

When it comes to brain health, he says he learned a lot from the recipes and the science behind them. Although he admits that, like many chefs, he’s guilty of cooking well but eating badly; after a day of preparing food for hundreds of customers he’ll often return home to a frozen pizza and oven chips.

Overall, he found the brain friendly diet ingredients easy to work with, except for their reliance on olive oil and very little salt. He notes with a laugh that as a chef in the UK, you learn to use a lot of butter and salt in your recipes, since this is an easy way to make the food you’re preparing taste good. That said, he’s never shyed away from a challenge. He noted that as an agency chef he would always volunteer to prepare the harder dishes, especially vegan meals, since he gained a lot of satisfaction from making delicious meals which didn’t rely on animal fats and salt to make them taste good.

We hope you’ll enjoy experimenting with these as much as we have, please share your creations, reviews, and recipe tweaks with us  on Twitter @dementiaunited #DUHealthyBrain #DAW2022