Thanks to readers, friends and family members (who are often trying to reform my eating habits), I receive a lot of food/health related information, which I appreciate even if I don’t always follow through with some of the suggestions. If it’s something I think might be interesting and/or helpful, I’ve often passed some of this on to readers, and that’s what’s happening today.
What caught my attention in the last envelope full of “did you know this?” I received were the words, “Foods that make you smarter.” Since I need all the help I can get along those lines, I read the pages with great interest. As it turns out, most of us have already been told about the benefits of eating some of these particular foods, but I hadn’t realized they could also assist in the brain power area. And, one of these I’d never even considered.
Coconut water, for example. Have you ever sipped on a cup of coconut water, just plain coconut water? I hadn’t. As it happens, coconut water is rich in potassium, a mineral that’s actually critical for brain health because it regulates the firing speed of the brain’s nerve cells, those pesky synapses. If you’re low on potassium, your brain slows its activity, meaning a slowed reaction time, possibly even confusion if you need to think and react quickly for whatever reason.
We all know that a banana supplies us with most of the daily requirement for potassium, but what I didn’t realize is that a banana is higher on the glycemic index, i.e., “spiking” our system with sugars instead of absorbing gradually into the bloodstream, which coconut water does. Coconut water is low in calories, light in taste, and works well in smoothies or mixed in with your breakfast cereal milk. A cup a day keeps the brain firing away, according to the information I read. I figure it can’t hurt, might help, so I’m trying it. Do I seem smarter yet? (Don’t answer that.)
If I go into detail on the other foods mentioned, this column will end up much too long, so I’ll just tell you quickly what they are. As I said, we’ve already been told about the benefits of eating these for their antioxidant and/or cholesterol lowering benefits, but it’s the added boost to brain protection and power I’d been unaware of.
Sweet potatoes, another low-glycemic boost to your brain, helping maintain concentration. Don’t like sweet potatoes? Make it spaghetti squash or yellow squash, but eat it two to three times a week. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (wrap that around your tongue!), which protects brain cells from all those free radicals and toxins caused by air pollution that we’re constantly warned about. Green tea, by the way, also contains dopamine, which stimulates reward and pleasure centers in your brain.
Sardines and walnuts, loaded with Omega 3, which we know is helpful in protecting the heart and arteries, but has also been found necessary to protect the membranes that surround brain cells. Blueberries and/or Concord grape juice, acai berries, known as powerful antioxidants, also either protect or stimulate brain cells, or both.
All of these “brainy” foods are easy to obtain and could be worked into a day’s snacks or meals. As I said, I’ll take all the help I can get, so all of them are now in my kitchen and, yes, going into my body on a regular basis.
As I said, can’t hurt, might help.
As of now, I’ve no recipes which call for coconut water; I think it could be incorporated into a punch or drink, and I’m working on that. I’ll let you know if and when I come up with something besides the uses mentioned above. Meanwhile, about those sweet potatoes; you might like to consider a somewhat different potato salad for your Fourth of July or any other time picnic. This one is not only delicious, it’s safe to leave sitting at room temperature for up to two hours, perfect for an outdoor buffet.
SWEET POTATO SALAD WITH ORANGE GINGER DRESSING
For the dressing: ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T. pure maple syrup
2 T. orange juice
2 T. sherry wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 t. peeled minced fresh ginger
½ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
For the salad: 6 lbs. red-skinned sweet potatoes (often called yams), peeled, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup walnuts (or pecans), toasted, coarsely chopped
½ cup each, golden raisins and dark raisins (or pitted chopped dates)
To make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients to blend, season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make salad, steam sweet potatoes (in batches, if necessary), until just tender (be careful not to overcook; you don’t want mush), about 10 min. Transfer to a large bowl; cool to room temp.
Add green onions, parsley, nuts and raisins. Pour dressing over; toss gently to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serves 12.
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, dark cherries, all fall into the super foods good for both brain and body. Right now, they’re all fresh and available; enjoy them as much as possible during our short fresh fruit season, turn to using frozen when fresh season ends.
I eat them with low-fat plain Greek yogurt, drizzled with a bit of honey, but for a special dessert treat, do try this lovely berry/cherry combo.
CHERRY BERRY CRISP
For the topping: 1 cup flour
½ cup golden brown sugar
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ t. ground cinnamon
10 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
Fruit: 3 ½ lbs. cherries, stemmed and pitted (if you don’t have a pitter, pull the stem and poke a chopstick through to push pit out other end)
1 ½ cups sugar
3 T. quick-cooking tapioca
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 t. almond extract
3 baskets (½-pint) fresh raspberries
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for topping
To make topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, oats and ground cinnamon in a bowl. Add butter and rub in with your fingertips until mixture comes together in moist clumps. (If you make this ahead, cover and refrigerate.)
In a large pot, mix together cherries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice and almond extract. Bring to boil over med.-high heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool 10 minutes. Transfer to a 13x9x2 baking dish. Sprinkle raspberries over cherry mixture then sprinkle topping evenly over the berries. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until fruit bubbles thickly and the topping is deep brown, about 40 min. Cool for ½ hour. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
Note: I found a sangria recipe I think will work with coconut water; I’m going to try it and I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future column. Meanwhile, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also coming, thanks to reader input, gluten-free recipes and information from Coyla Shepard, who lives in Clinton. Who knew gluten-free gingerbread could taste so good.