3 Ways to Thrive & Stay Sharp in 2018

You’ve survived the holiday season, now it’s time to thrive with wellness into 2018. Here are three ways to get going on the right path. The good news is that even adopting one of these ideas this week will do the body and mind good. So ease into a new habit, and if week one goes well, try another week. If that goes well, try adding another of these tips to your routine.

Eat a green vegetable today.

Broccoli, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, arugula, and more. Take your pick. Put it in a salad or a smoothie, cook them up in a soup or a saute lightly in olive oil. Adults who ate at least one serving of leafy green vegetables a day kept the brain humming 11 years younger, according to a new study from Tufts University.

Take a brisk 40 minute walk.

The 2013 International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain’s dietary and lifestyle guidelines for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease recommend taking this brisk walk every other day. Aerobic exercise helps reduce inflammation and improves blood flow to the brain. It even protects brain cells. There are also heart health and overall weight management reasons to go for that walk. Maybe take it as an opportunity to catch up with a friend or a favorite podcast episode.

Eat more plant protein.

When it comes to protein, it is essential to get enough throughout each day. It can come from many sources, including plant and animal foods. It’s the mix of proteins you eat throughout the day that matter, not what you eat at one sitting. Aim to get some of your protein from plants. Nuts and beans will be your best bet. Almonds and pistachios are the two snack nuts that are highest in protein and fiber, or take your pick from a variety of beans such as black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, navy beans, split peas, and more. Super healthy whole grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa, sorghum, farro, and barley, also offer up a little plant protein.

Which of these three simple choices will you commit to making today? Let me know in the comments!

Jeweled Holiday Acorn Squash

Come Christmas time, my family gathers at my parents’ home in southern California. There’s a single pomegranate tree in our backyard, and every winter my mom saves the best one for me. This simple side dish is a way to honor those jewels of winter. I always try to make something simple, seasonal, delicious and vibrantly healthy (and okay, I also want it to be photogenic). Ultimately, I want my loved ones to live long and healthy lives, so tasty yet ridiculously healthy food is my love language. Bonus: this dish is so simple, you won’t be stuck (or getting in anyone’s way) in the kitchen for long.

Tip: Use a circular ravioli or cookie cutter to remove seeds from each ring. This makes it easy to have a visually pleasing center cutout with clean edges.

Recipe

Curried Acorn Squash with Pistachios and Pomegranates

Prep: 15 min | Cook: 20 min | Rest: 10 min | Total: 45 min

Serves: 6

Ingredients

2 small acorn squash, 2-3 lbs each, cut into 1″ rings (about 3 rings per squash)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp curry powder

1/2 cup pomegranate arils (1 small pomegranate; you may have extra)

1/2 cup pistachio kernels

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400ºF for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, wash and dry the produce. Remove pomegranate arils by quartering the pomegranate and loosening arils from the skin underwater in a large bowl; drain. On a large baking sheet, arrange acorn squash rings in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Add to oven and bake for 20 minutes, or to desired doneness (fork should easily pierce the skin). Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, season to taste. Transfer to serving platter and generously garnish with pistachios and pomegranate arils. Serve immediately.

MIND diet foods: Vegetables, olive oil, nuts, berries

Coconut Sorghum with Warm Curry and Delicata Squash

This is a summer-to-fall transitional dish that firmly plants its flag in the I-want-it-to-be-fall camp. Earthy whole-grain sorghum and delicata squash make it decidedly so. Still, in the heady early days of October, many areas of the country will still be going through intermittent warm spells, which means fresh flavors like cucumber, baby spinach, chives, and mint are all still welcome. The warm (and anti-inflammatory) spices of curry, chili, and ginger are enveloped by a blend of coconut and almond milks. (Using a little bit of full-fat coconut milk and a lot more almond milk means great flavor with a ton of calorie savings).

Ready for fall, but still feels like summer? This coconut sorghum and squash dish with cucumbers and mint has got you covered! #minddiet #brainfood @simplysorghum Click To Tweet

Tip: Sorghum isn’t always easy to find! Your best bet is to stop by your local Whole Foods, or to order directly from Bob’s Red Mill.

 

Recipe

MIND foods: Leafy greens, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil

Prep: 15-30 min | Cook: 1 hr 10 min | Total: 1 hr 15 min

Serves: 4

 

Coconut Sorghum

1 cup dry sorghum, rinsed

3/4 cup coconut milk

2 1/4 cups almond milk (I used this unsweetened almond milk with a touch of coconut milk)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Curry

1 T olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 T curry powder

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp chili powder

3/4 cup coconut milk

2 cups almond milk

3 T rice wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Squash

1 medium delicata squash

1 T olive oil, and a little more to oil the sheet pan

Pinch of curry powder

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Base and Garnishes

4 cups baby spinach, lightly packed (I used a pre-washed product)

1 8-inch cucumber,  cut into rounds or thinly sliced with mandolin

2 T marcona almonds

2-3 chives, finely chopped

10-15 mint leaves, torn or cut into strips just before eating

Optional: Red chili flakes

 

Method

Prep. Wash and dry all fresh produce. Preheat the oven to 375F. Measure out all ingredients.

Make the sorghum. Combine all Coconut Sorghum ingredients with a large pinch of salt in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat to a simmer and cover for 50-60 minutes, or until cooked to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, make the curry. Heat oil in a large saucepan – non-stick if you have one – until hot. Add onions and stir occasionally until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir constantly for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add liquids (coconut milk, almond milk, mirin), and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower to a simmer for 30 minutes or to desired thickness. Season to taste.

While sorghum and curry simmer, make the squash. Lightly oil a medium sheet pan. Cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 1-inch half-rings. In a large bowl, toss squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and curry powder to coat. Arrange on sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 5-6 minutes on one side, flip over and return to oven to roast another 5-6 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces through the flesh. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Plate. Make a bed of baby spinach. Spoon coconut-sorghum over greens. Place delicata squash on top. Drizzle with curry (any extra can be served on the side). Garnish with cucumbers, almonds, chives, and mint. If using red chili flakes, sprinkle a pinch over dish or serve on the side for individuals to use to taste. Enjoy.

Tip: One 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk will be enough for this recipe; simply divide between sorghum and curry recipes.

Tip: Once served, guide guests to stir their ingredients around as the warm ingredients will wilt the spinach and infuse it with curry flavors.

Fig & Fennel Citrus Salad

This simple salad is aromatic thanks to the fennel, bright thanks to the orange segments, peppery thanks to the arugula, earthy and sweet thanks to the figs, and pleasantly tart and complex thanks to the raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette. There’s no sugar added – or needed – due to all the big vibrant flavors. You’ll enjoy the medley of tastes and textures while meeting your veggie quota for the day (read: fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, folate, vitamin E, and more).

 

 

Recipe

MIND foods: Leafy greens, vegetables, berries, olive oil

Prep: 10-15 min | Cook: 5 min | Total: 15-20 min

Serves: 4

Salad Ingredients

4 cups baby arugula, lightly packed (I used a pre-washed product)

1 medium bulb fennel, stalks trimmed and discarded, reserving fronds

1 medium orange, supreme segments (I used a Tangelo orange)

6 California mission figs, quartered lengthwise (substitute: your favorite fresh fig)

Raspberry Vinaigrette Ingredients

1 cup frozen raspberries

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onions

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Reserved orange juice, to taste

 

Method

Wash and dry all fresh produce. Combine all dressing ingredients, except orange juice, in a food processor or blender until smooth; season to taste. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. (You will have extra dressing to enjoy for the rest of the week!) Meanwhile, quarter your fennel bulb. Cut out the tough root and heart with a diagonal slice and discard. Thinly slice the remaining white bulb on the diagonal to make thin strips. To supreme your orange, cut off the top and bottom, then with one flat side down securely on the cutting board, slice away the remaining peel. Cut flesh-only segments out of the orange. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining orange core and reserve. Optional: taste dressing and add orange juice, slowly, to taste.

To plate, toss or gently layer arugula, fennel, fennel fronds, citrus, and figs. Drizzle with dressing. Season to taste. Serve immediately.

Tip: Using a funnel, pour the finished dressing into a squeeze bottle to make it easier to handle.

Tip: Reserve some of the fig pieces, orange segments, and fennel fronds, and place as deliberate garnishes to add appeal to your dish.

Trailblazer: Strawberry Almond BarNana Pop Mix

Trail mix is all about on-the-go snacking, so while I generally favor fresh fruit, when it comes to trail mix, it’s just not in the cards. But my problem is that I find most dried fruit too sweet since all the sugar in fresh form is concentrated down (don’t even get me started on the dried fruit that even adds sugar!). Anyway, I am happy that I’ve found some great dried fruit options that aren’t too sweet.

I recently tried BarNana organic chewy banana bites at a nutrition conference, and it was love at first bite. (This was sort of surprising since the little brown lumps don’t look all that appealing, but give them a try, you might like them, too!). They’re simply dehydrated bananas coated in banana powder so they don’t stick to your fingers (brilliant!). What I like about them is that unlike a lot of dried fruit, they’re not too sweet (my palate doesn’t prefer too much sweetness so this is perfect for me). Same goes for freeze-dried strawberries, actually. They’re pleasantly tart more than anything else. To this mix, almonds and popcorn add volume, crunch, protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

Recipe

Trail Mix with Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Almonds, Popcorn and Chewy Banana Bites

Prep: 5 min | Total: 5 min

Serves: 4

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Boom Chika Pop popcorn (or air-pop your own)
  • 1 1/2 cups Kroger Simple Truth Freeze-Dried Strawberries (or your preferred brand)
  • 32 almonds (about 1/3 cup)
  • 8 BarNana organic original chewy banana bites

 

Method

Divide evenly into 4 resealable snack containers. If you can find a snack container with two compartments, divide popcorn and almonds into one side, and the dried fruit on the other. This will help prevent soggy popcorn.

 

Nutritional notes: 130 calories per serving, zero added sugars, potassium- and vitamin A-rich, and a good source of fiber.

MIND diet foods: Whole grains, nuts, berries

Trailblazer: Goji Matcha Cacao Pop Mix

There is a complex yet delicate herbaliciousness to both goji berries and green tea. Combine them with the pleasant bitter notes in dark chocolate, and you get a lovely nuanced marriage of rhyming flavors. Contrast those flavors with a simple base of popcorn which also adds great texture, volume, and fiber. This polyphenol-powered trail mix has high quality indulgent ingredients, yet keeps them in proportion so you don’t have to worry about going overboard on calories or too many added sugars.

Recipe

Trail Mix with Goji Berries, Matcha Dark Chocolate, and Popcorn

Prep: 2 min | Total: 2 min

Serves: 4

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Boom Chika Pop popcorn (or air-pop your own)
  • 4 squares Vosges Super Dark 72% Dark Chocolate with Matcha Green Tea, Spiraling, and Cocoa Nibs, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Navitas organic goji berries

 

Directions

Divide evenly into 4 resealable snack containers.

 

Nutritional notes: 100 calories per serving, 3 grams of added sugars, vitamin A-rich, and a good source of potassium and fiber.

MIND diet foods: Whole grains, berries

 

Trailblazer: Beet’stachio Goji-Pop Mix

Anyone else notice all the new-fangled trail mixes available on the shelf these days? Premium ingredients come with a premium price. But you can enjoy all the on-trend healthy flavors of the moment, hand-pick your own filling ingredients, and manage your calories and portions, all by doing a little bit of prep work at home. It’s painless, I promise. The hardest part is waiting to get munching.

Recipe

Trail Mix with Beet Chips, Pistachios, Goji Berries and Popcorn

Prep: 2 min | Total: 2 min

Serves: 4

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Boom Chika Pop popcorn (or air-pop your own)
  • 12 Rhythm beet chips (or bake your own)
  • 60 pistachios (about 1/3 cup of kernels)
  • 3 tablespoons Navitas organic goji berries

 

Directions

Divide evenly into 4 resealable snack containers.

 

Nutritional notes: 125 calories per serving, zero added sugars, vitamin A-rich, and a good source of potassium and fiber.

MIND diet foods: Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, berries

Summery Farro Salad

The height of summer means stone fruit, and that includes cherries. Deep red cherries add a sweet, mildly tart and bright note to the nutty and earthy base notes of the farro in this whole grain salad. Pickled cucumbers and shallots add another dimension of contrasting flavor, texture, and temperature. The magic is in the medley and how all these flavors play together and in reaction to each other.

 

Recipe

MIND foods: whole grains, vegetables, nuts, berries

Prep: 10-15 min | Cook: 15-20 min | Total: 25-35 min

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

1.5 cups farro (here’s a 10-minute farro that’s good for busy weeknights)

1 medium-large cucumber, skin peeled in stripes, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, halved lengthwise again, and chopped (will be 1.5-2 cups when chopped)

2 medium shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (will be about a 1/2 cup loosely packed)

2 large handfuls of fresh red cherries, pitted and roughly chopped (about 30 cherries; will be about 1 cup roughly chopped)

2 T coconut vinegar

1 T fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup roasted and lightly salted pistachios, roughly chopped (reserve a small handful for garnish)

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

Prepare farro according to package instructions. While farro is cooking, wash, dry and prep all produce. In a medium bowl, combine cucumbers, shallots and vinegar, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let marinate for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When farro is done cooking, thoroughly drain and then transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste. Fold in cherries, cucumber-shallot mixture and pistachios just before serving. Top with reserved pistachios. Enjoy.

Tip: Get the kids involved! Have kids wash their hands and help remove thyme leaves and cherry pits.

Banana Nice Cream Dairy-Free Frozen Treat

I pride myself on my omnivore status, and having a curious palate open to the world’s flavors. My take on a healthy balanced diet is quite inclusive. So when I tell you this is a vegan and dairy-free dessert, know that those qualities are mostly incidental. True, my body hasn’t had a decent relationship with dairy since I was a toddler, but I hold no grudge. Therefore, I give you a very simple and delicious “nice cream,” which is a vegan, dairy-free way to enjoy a creamy dessert that is 100-percent cream-free with no added sugars (none needed). There’s a good balance of fiber from the bananas, protein from the peanut butter powder, and natural sweetness from the bananas and vanilla extract.

I topped mine with freeze-dried blueberries I picked up on a whim from Trader Joe’s (brain-healthy berries!). I think a sprinkle of cinnamon and some dark chocolate nibs would also be delightful toppings. In our home, we’ve enjoyed this as breakfast, snack, and dessert. With a handful of wholesome ingredients, it is truly a guilt-free indulgence.

The one snafu could be the frozen bananas. Here are a few options:

  1. You can start with frozen bananas from the freezer aisle.
  2. If you eat bananas regularly, you know sometimes one or two can get too ripe before you can finish the bunch. These are great to break up into pieces and stash in the freezer until you have enough to make some nice cream.
  3. Or, you can buy a bunch of bananas for the singular purpose of making nice cream. If this is the case, you must wait for them to ripen (you can use the brown paper bag trick to speed up the process), then break into pieces and freeze.

Recipe

Prep: 1 min | Cook: 3 min | Total: 4 min

Serves: 2

Ingredients

2 medium-large ripe bananas, broken into 2″ pieces, frozen
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond milk, unsweetened
3 T peanut butter powder

 

Method

Combine bananas, vanilla extract, and half of almond milk in blender or food processor. Pulse to start to combine, about 1 minute. Add peanut butter powder. Pulse again, slowly adding more almond milk as needed to reach desired consistency (somewhere between ice cream and soft-serve). Enjoy immediately or return to freezer until ready to enjoy.

The MIND Diet Book Featured as Top Book for 65+

11 Must-Reads for Seniors

According to the SeniorHomes.com blog, there are 11 books that you “Need to Read” if you’re among the 46 million American adults age 65 and older. Spoiler alert, The MIND Diet, rounds out their list of must-reads! It is described as:

“… a comprehensive guide to the eating plan that has been proven to boost memory, mental acuity and concentration while slowing cognitive decline during aging. You’ll find detailed information about the science behind her recommendations, recipes you can easily prepare at home, and a list of foods that could be harming your brain health. The plan focuses on consuming whole foods to boost brain health, from leafy greens and vegetables to poultry, olive oil and wine.”

Learn More

Read up on all of their top 11 picks by visiting the full article, 11 Books You Need to Read if You’re Over 65. They promise you’ll be “inspired, challenged, and well informed when you’ve finished one or all of these picks.”

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