Every New Year comes with a slew of nutritional campaigns. It can often feel overwhelming when you’re looking to make a few dietary changes. Rather than get caught up in what not to eat or trying to follow a complicated plan, a simple strategy of incorporating more foods and drinks with big nutritional benefits can be a much simpler and more sustainable approach.
Experts recommend the six nutrient-rich foods below, which are proven to help promote brain health and improve mood, longevity, and energy.
Dairy and plant milk for brain health
Vitamin D, which we mainly absorb through the sun, has several health benefits, including bolstering the immune system and strengthening bones. A new study released last December found vitamin D may also help improve brain function. The researchers found higher vitamin D levels in the brain were associated with better cognitive function, including a stronger memory.
While the study’s authors couldn’t give specific dietary recommendations, “research reinforces the importance of studying how food and nutrients create resilience to protect the aging brain against diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias,” says Sarah Booth, an author on the study and director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in a press release.
Along with the sun, a host of fish, as well as dairy milk, soy milk, and orange juice fortified with vitamin D are rich in this nutrient.
Beans for longevity
Beans have an array of beneficial properties, including being rich in protein and fiber. Beans are glorified in the blue zone diet, which was researched by best-selling author Dan Buettner as part of an in-depth look into what people eat in the blue zones—the areas across the globe where people live the longest.
The Blue Zone diet consists of plant-based foods, and beans stand out as an important source of protein to substitute animal protein. In Buettner’s new book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100 from National Geographic, he recommends eating beans daily and says they “reign supreme in the blue zones and are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world.”
Tea for heart health
This year, researchers found that a cup of tea does more than make you feel warm and cozy or help you nod off. Tea was found to have an association with a “moderately lower risk of dying.” Specifically, black tea was associated with a decreased risk of dying from heart disease.
The lead author explained that the polyphenols in tea can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and therefore, may decrease the risk of mortality. The researchers found this association was true even if the tea drinker also consumed coffee.
Fish for happiness
Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines, can reduce the risk of heart disease. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with improved brain health and a reduced risk for depression. These fish are also swimming in vitamin B12, which is associated with positive mood.
Greek yogurt for energy
To feel more productive as the day rolls on, especially when hitting that midday slump, some snacks may provide you with longer sustained energy as opposed to a quick sugar boost.
Rich in protein, a cup of greek yogurt will provide you with energy and make you feel fuller longer than something ultra-processed or high in sugar which gives a spike of energy followed by a more dramatic downfall.
Spices for stress
Spices like garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation over a long period of time can cause a stress response in the body, both physically and mentally. Foods that curb inflammation in the body, therefore, are beneficial.
“Garlic is a prebiotic that helps balance your gut by stimulating healthy bacteria growth,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food, previously told Fortune. “And turmeric impacts the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that helps regulate stress hormones.”
Lastly, while food choices can help with various physical and mental health goals, eating with one another and slowing down to enjoy company over a meal—what the blue zone researchers talk about as the power of a shared meal—remains a cornerstone of health and longevity.
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