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5 Ways to Create a Brain-Boosting Kitchen

Updated: Apr 1

Simple ways to upgrade your kitchen for better brain health


By Austin Perlmutter, MD

 

 

Decades of research show us that what we eat influences our brain health. A Mediterranean diet, for example, may help prevent dementia and depression, while an ultraprocessed diet (like the standard American diet) may have the exact opposite effect. All of this is to say that the quality and quantity of our food choices has a direct effect on the structure and function of our brains. One of the most important ways to improve the quality of our food choices is to improve the quality of what happens in our kitchen. In this article, we’ll explore 5 tips for creating a brain-healthy kitchen.


1. Ditch the ultraprocessed foods

 

While it can sound wasteful to get rid of food and beverages, the reality is that almost nobody benefits from consuming ultraprocessed foods. Some foods and beverages worth tossing include:

  • Sodas and other sugar sweetened beverages (these include energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, sweet teas and sugary sports drinks)

  • Candies (let’s be honest, we all know these aren’t healthy)

  • Margarine, frosting and other foods that contain trans-fats (linked to vascular disease and dementia)

  • Artificially sweetened foods and beverages (containing aspartame, aceulfame, saccharin, sucralose or neotame)

 

2. Stock up on non-starchy fruits + vegetables


Somewhere in the crossfire between the carnivore and vegan devotees, we’ve lost an important bit of nuance: people who generally eat more plant-based foods tend to live longer and have better cognitive and mental health. Reasons for this include fiber consumption, polyphenol intake, decreased inflammation and more. This doesn’t mean going vegan, it simply means making a point to purchase diverse and colorful fruits vegetables with each grocery run. As it relates to fruit, some wonderful options include blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and avocados (yes, they’re fruits!). Berries can be purchased frozen in bulk to save money and preserve freshness.  




3. Keep a consistent supply of healthy fats


In years gone by, we were told that all fat was bad for our bodies and would lead to weight loss. The science has since shifted, and we’ve learned that the exact opposite is true. Some of the better-studied healthy fat sources to prioritize include unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats). Some great sources of these fats are nuts and seeds, fatty cold-water fish like salmon, and small fish like mackerel, herring and anchovies.


4. Always have real olive oil on hand


Among the best-studied healthy fats, olive oil has a solid track record of being linked to better brain health outcomes. In a 2023 review paper, consumption of olive oil was linked to better cognitive function and reduction in cognitive decline. One paper found that a daily dose of 20-30 grams of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) was linked to better cognition after one year, while other research suggests closer to 3 tablespoons a day may help protect the brain.


If you’re choosing to consume olive oil, make sure you’re getting it from a reputable source. Most olive oil is cut with cheaper and less healthy oils. Real olive oil should taste peppery and bright. Look also for a third-party certification seal like the COOC Certified Extra Virgin seal from California or the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Additionally, make sure the olive oil says “extra-virgin.”


5. Invest in fun and easy hacks for the kitchen  

One of the best ways to make eating healthy your norm is to make it easier and more fun. To this end, look for ways to save time and make the process of preparing meals more enjoyable. A pressure cooker is a reasonably inexpensive way to standardize a quick preparation of foods like quinoa and wild rice. A sharp, quality knife can make food prep a delight, while a cheap meat thermometer can ensure your oven-baked salmon is consistently delicious.   






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Under Number 3: Did you mean in years past we were told that all fats would lead to weight "GAIN" rather than weight loss?

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