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Feed Your Brain: Eat the Rainbow

6 Dec

This month we are exploring how to build a better brain, one day and one exercise at a time. Today let’s look at an everyday focus – one that will help you create a healthy environment to maximize your daily efforts.

There is an approach to nutrition shown to promote better health and increase energy that has been around for a while – eat the rainbow. It is really simple – prepare and eat a diet that includes foods that cover every color of the rainbow. Since Mother Nature has a way of making what is good for us appealing in its natural form, follow color cues and clues to eat your way to better health. It’s really that easy and from an overall health standpoint, pretty solid advice. It turns out that this is also really good daily thinking and functioning advice too.

The chemicals in our brains, neurotransmitters, need a variety of nutrients, in a good balance, to function well. Researchers have, so far, found more than 50 types of neurotransmitters. Each regulates daily functioning and each needs nutrients to work most effectively. Keeping those neurotransmitters well-nourished helps improve every level of brain function from attention to problem solving to muscular control and all points in between.

There is solid research that links healthy levels of Vitamin A, the B family of vitamins, Vitamin K, folate, and omega fatty acids with good cognitive functioning in general but memory and problem solving in particular.

Taking the rainbow in order, here is a small sampling of foods that contain the nutrients needed to promote thinking and problem solving!

Red Strawberries, Tomatoes Vitamins A & K, Folate, Omega Fatty AcidsVitamins A & B6, Folate
Yellow Bananas, Squash, Salmon B6B6, FolateOmega Fatty Acids, B6, B12
Orange Pumpkin Vitamins A, K, & B6, Folate
Green Spinach, Avocado Vitamins A, K, & B6, FolateVitamins A, K, & B6, Folate,Omega Fatty Acids (3&6)
Blue Blue Corn Folate, Omega Fatty Acids
Indigo Blueberries, Purple Cabbage Vitamins A, B6, B12 & K, Folate, Omega Fatty AcidsVitamins A, B6, B12 & K, Folate, Omega Fatty Acids
Violet Acai Berries, Blackberries Vitamins A, B6, B12 & K, Folate, Omega Fatty Acids

They say we eat with our eyes first. Make sure your plates are colorful and packed with brain healthy nutrients!

“Be” Brain Healthy, “B” Vitamins and a Bonus Recipe!

15 May

Eating and cooking are wonderful sensory experiences and great brain activity boosters. The food we eat, and what goes in it, supplies our bodies and our brains with what we need to thrive. One of the really cool things about exploring how food can help us think better is that this is an area where we can actually do something tangible to make a difference.

Since I have been harping on the “Be”s of brain health, let’s talk about vitamin Bs!

Before we dive in, there is one thing to keep in mind — research into how vitamins and minerals change brain functioning is so very new. So much more study needs to be done before anyone can say with any certainty what is “true”. There comes a time though, when it does not hurt anything to act before all the evidence is in. With that thought at the center of this discussion….

There is more and more support in the research literature to strongly suggest that high levels of the B family of vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folate, B12) in the blood is associated with better cognitive functioning and greater brain volume.   That means both thinking better and increasing the size of your brain…. A recent study really seems to support this.   Healthy, older adults who took tablets of large doses of folic acid, B12, and B6 actually cut their age-related mild cognitive impairment in half when compared to a similar group of healthy older adults who did not take the supplement (Bowman et al, 2012).  Increasing vitamin B levels with a simple tablet had pretty powerful impact.

Yes, there are less than 100 published studies and yes. you should not take massive quantities of vitamin B without knowing all the facts. The bottom line is, however, there is enough evidence to comfortably say that increasing vitamin B intake, through food, could be good for your brain. The chances of getting too much vitamin B just by changing a bit of your dietary focus and adding foods that are high in vitamin B are pretty slim.

The following is a listing of some great sources for 5 kinds of B vitamins from the Livestrong Foundation, a great source for nutritional information of all kinds!

 Thiamin (B1)

Pork, ham, dark green leafy vegetables, fortified whole-grain cereals, wheat germ, enriched rice, green pea, lentils and nuts such as almonds and pecans.

Riboflavin (B2)

Milk and milk products such as yogurt and cheese, asparagus, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs and fortified cereals.


Leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens and other fresh fruits and vegetables. All grain products such as breads, pastas and rice are fortified with folate.

Vitamin B6

Some of the best sources of vitamin B6 are poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, potatoes and fortified cereals.

Vitamin B12

Animal foods are the only natural source of vitamin B12.   Soy products and cereals are fortified with B12 so it is widely available in the food supply. Other good natural sources include shellfish, such as clams, mussels and crab, fin fish and beef.


 Vegetarians can look for foods fortified with B12 or take a good quality supplement.   Make sure that you getting cyanocobalamin, a water soluble form of vitamin B12 that can be absorbed by the body!

Here is my recipe for split pea soup.   This is packed with B vitamins!  Enjoy!

Split Pea Soup

I make this in the slow cooker and usually use the bone leftover from the spiral cut ham.

1- 16 oz package split peas

4  quarts cold water

ham bone with plenty of ham left

2 onions thinly slices

2 large pinches of sea salt

1 large pinch of freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves of garlic, minced

6 stalks of celery, chopped

8 carrots, chopped

1 large potato, diced


 In a large slow cooker, cover peas with 2 quarts cold water and soak overnight.    Once peas are soaked, add ham bone, onion, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover and turn the slow cooker on low for at least 6 hours.  Make sure to stir occasionally so you make sure there is plenty of liquid.   Remove bone; cut off meat, dice and return meat to soup. Add potatoes about an hour before you are ready to serve.

What recipes do you recommend that are high in the B vitamins?

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