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.

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: 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.

Vegan No-Sugar-Added Chocolate Pudding with Pistachios and Orange Zest

The Inspiration

First of all, I made this recipe with my septuagenarian parents in mind, as a naturally sweet and totally healthy dessert for the Thanksgiving table. However, my master taste-tester (aka my husband) also approves – he especially enjoyed eating a spoonful with a little bit of pudding, pistachio, and orange zest all together.

It Is So Easy

The prep is a snap, and most of this dish can be made well ahead of time. In fact, it’s advisable, since it is ideal to have the pudding chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This makes it pleasantly cool to the palate, and it also diminishes any latent banana aromas (which may seem strong right after blending ingredients).

This ABC pudding is kicked up a notch with chili powder + pistachios + orange zest #brainfood #healthy #noaddedsugars Click To Tweet

Pro Tips

The aromatic oils that arise from citrus zest are fragile, so it’s best to zest your orange just before serving. Bonus points if you zest directly into your dessert bowls at the table – since this helps get the most out of that magical spray that results from zesting, and is fun for your guests, too. If that’s not practical, it’s still nice to zest nearby your final product before serving.

Why it’s MDM-Approved

This recipe is MIND Diet Meals approved because it is bursting with healthy fats, antioxidants, and more fiber than you might expect (32% of the Daily Value in one serving of this smooth, creamy dessert!). There’s no need for any added sugars in this recipe because it gets its sweetness naturally from ripe bananas. There is no saturated-fat laden cream in this recipe either. It gets its creaminess from ripe avocados. While this dessert tastes great and looks beautiful, most of all it’s heart-healthy and brain-healthy, too. Healthy and delicious? That’s an MDM win.

Vegan ABC Chocolate Pudding with Pistachios and Orange Zest
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: California
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 3 ripe medium bananas, peeled
  • 2 ripe medium California avocados, peeled and deseeded
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp chili powder
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • Zest from 1 medium orange
Instructions
  1. Prepare pudding: Blend all ingredients together until smooth, except pistachios and orange zest. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or until completely chilled.
  2. Prepare pistachios: Preheat oven to 350 F. Toast pistachios on baking sheet for 3 minutes. Toss, and bake for additional 3 minutes. Let cool and coarsely chop. Store in airtight container until ready to serve.
  3. Serve: Divide pudding into 8 dessert bowls, top with pistachios. Zest an entire medium orange (or two, if you love orange zest), and divide zest among bowls. Enjoy.
Notes
MIND diet foods: Nuts
Nutrition Information
Serving size: About ½ cup Calories: 165 Fat: 10g Saturated fat: 2g Unsaturated fat: 8g Trans fat: 0g Carbohydrates: 22g Sugar: 7 g (zero added sugars) Sodium: 42mg Fiber: 8g Protein: 5g Cholesterol: 0mg

 

Chicken Curry Salad with Ginger, Almonds & Grapes

I was invited to a lovely birthday gathering at a friend’s home in Venice Beach, and was excited to bring something to share with the group. I wanted it to be fresh, flavorful, and satisfying, while being easy enough to sample among a mix of offerings (I was not the only one bringing something to share!). This awesome recipe is the result – it’s my take on a chicken curry salad, with excellent ingredients and add-ins, served with delicate butter lettuce cups.

MIND foods: Poultry, vegetables, nuts, leafy greens

Yield: 8 servings

Time: 30 minutes active; 30 minutes inactive

Difficulty: Easy

 

Chicken Curry Salad Ingredients

2 cups chicken broth (I used a store-bought organic chicken broth, but this is a great way to use any homemade broth you may have laying around in the fridge or freezer)
1/2 cup almond slivers, toasted
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I made my own with olive oil, see below if you want to, too)
1 1/2 lb skinless boneless chicken breast (I used Kosher)
5 teaspoons mild curry powder (I used a mild aromatic curry)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (plus extra for adjusting to taste at the end)
6 oz cup plain strained yogurt (e.g. Greek or Icelandic yogurt works great)
1 teaspoon honey (I used an organic raw honey from Wholesome)
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and minced (peel it with a spoon; you’ll thank me later)
1 medium red onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 yellow bell pepper, cored and small diced (this adds such an awesome crunch)
1 1/2 cup seedless grapes, halved or quartered (depending how big they are) – pick your favorite, I used a mix of red, green, and black California table grapes (these are so crisp and sweet right now)
2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated
salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Curry Salad Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Wash, dry, and prep all fresh produce. Spread almond slivers in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes (check after 5 minutes), until lightly browned.

On medium heat, combine chicken broth and 3 cups of water in a medium pot. On low heat, add curry and ginger powder to a small saute pan, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile, pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels. When liquid is simmering, add chicken (it should be covered by the liquid), adjust heat to maintain a simmer if needed. Cook, uncovered, for 7 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the pot and let rest on a cutting board for at least 10 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, make the mayonnaise (see directions below) if making, and set aside in refrigerator. (Do it, you know you want to.)

In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice, honey, curry and ginger powder mix, and fresh ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Add in onion, bell peppers, grapes, and almonds, gently stirring to coat (I used a soft spatula for this part).

When chicken is cool enough to handle, dice into bite-size pieces (~ 1/2 inch squares). Gently fold chicken into main salad mixture, using a soft spatula or gloved hands.

Taste it. If it needs adjusting, seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and lime juice. For my tastes, I ended up adding another tablespoon of lime juice just at the end.

Make Your Own Mayonnaise (It’s simple, I promise)

Mayonnaise Ingredients

1 egg yolk (since these stay raw, I’d use pasteurized raw eggs from Davidson’s Safe Eggs)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon mustard (got mine from Trader Joe’s – the smooth kind, not the grainy one for this recipe)
1/2 cup olive oil (I used “Everyday” extra-virgin olive oil by California Olive Ranch)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mayonnaise Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard together until smooth and homegenous. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, constantly whisking to keep mixture smooth. See, super easy, and tastes so much better than store bought.

Nutrition: 280 calories, 20 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 14 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber

chicken curry salad and butter lettuce cups plated

What Makes a Meal MIND-Worthy?

MIND Diet book author is a registered dietitian, and culinary school trained, so recipes are healthy and delicious
MIND Diet book author in her chef whites

There are 75 recipes in The MIND Diet book to get you started, but when you’re ready to make your own meals, rest assured that the guidelines for creating healthy MIND diet meals are simple. The beauty of the MIND diet is its simplicity. The complicated part is done (the research). Based on natural whole foods, the MIND diet includes plenty of plant foods, complemented by a healthy helping of seafood and poultry. And don’t forget the wine!

How do you know if your meal is worthy to be tagged #minddietmeals? Simple, it will contain any of the 10 basic brain-healthy food groups, and none of the five brain-harming ones. With these basic guidelines, you’ll be creating your own MIND diet meals in no time.

The MIND diet’s brain-healthy food groups (and how often to eat them):

  1. Whole grains – 3x per day (i.e. daily)
  2. Vegetables – 1x per day (i.e. daily)
  3. Leafy green vegetables – 6x per week
  4. Nuts – 5x per week (e.g. a daily snack during the workweek)
  5. Beans – 3-4x per week (i.e. about every other day)
  6. Berries – 2x per week (e.g. fresh berries over 2 to 3 days, or frozen berries anytime)
  7. Poultry – 2x per week
  8. Fish – 1x per week
  9. Olive oil – use daily (I like CA Olive Ranch because it has a seal of authenticity from California Olive Oil Commission)
  10. Wine – 1x per day (i.e. one 5 oz glass daily)

 

The MIND diet’s brain-harming food groups (You’ll see there’s room for moderation, but reducing these foods as much as possible has many benefits for overall health):

  1. Butter/solid fats – less than a tablespoon per day
  2. Pastries/sweets – less than 5x per week
  3. Red meat – less than 4x per week
  4. Fried/fast foods – less than 1x per week (e.g. one or two times a month)
  5. Cheese – less than 1x per week (e.g. one or two times a month)

 

What are some simple meal ideas you can think of that include some of the 10 brain-healthy food groups?