Remember the saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, it’s no secret that better foods are better for your body. But it’s often hard to fit complicated recipes and obscure ingredients into our daily lives. Today, we want to help bridge the gap between what’s recommended and what’s realistic. This way, you can have food and meal ideas at your fingertips that are great for your body—and brain.

Studies agree that a healthy diet includes fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains.1,2,3,4,5 Foods that are efficient sources of energy and vitamins are good for your body.1 On the other side of the table, foods that are highly processed with sugars and fats aren’t full of nutrients. This may lead to inflammatory reactions over time that can be harmful to your health.3,4 Ongoing inflammation has been linked to health problems like cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and more.3,4 That’s why experts recommend increasing the amount of good foods in our diet, including antioxidants that fight inflammation. They also recommend limiting the ones that can undermine our health.

Following a healthy foods framework like this might sound like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. With some basic planning and shopping, you can stock your shelves with foods that you can easily whip together into brain- and body-boosting meals.

A roster of all-star foods

First, let’s do a quick run-through of foods that are great for your brain and are also protective for your heart and blood vessels:1

  • Green leafy veggies like kale, spinach, collards and chard are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta carotene.1
  • Fatty fish have abundant omega-3 fatty acids. Examples are salmon, cod, canned light tuna and pollack. Alternates include flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.1
  • Berries such as strawberries and blueberries are high in flavonoids and antioxidants that support your immune system.1,5
  • Tea and coffee offer polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds.1,5
  • Nuts like walnuts and almonds are excellent for fiber, protein and healthy fats.1
  • Whole grains provide iron, B vitamins and fiber. Choose brown rice and bread and pasta made with whole grains. Use whole wheat, whole oats, whole bulgur (cracked wheat) and whole cornmeal instead of refined ones such as white flour, degermed cornmeal, white bread and white rice.2
  • Lean meats and poultry are good protein choices. Alternates are seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and soy products.2

The foods on this list are powerful, but they may not be everyone’s taste—and that’s OK! It’s a guide to give you the recommended whats and whys so you can make informed food choices. A doctor or dietitian can help you shape a shopping list personalized to your health goals and preferences. 

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With these all-star foods to guide your shopping, you’ll have the basics on hand to get cookin’. Try these expert tips for easy ways to pull together high-nutrition, low-stress meals.

7 tips for healthy eating

  • Make a quick, nutrient-dense breakfast or snack. Combine ½ cup each of whole rolled oats, frozen berries and skim milk in a container. Add a spoonful of ground flaxseeds, a handful of walnuts and a dash of cinnamon. Cover with a lid and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Stir and enjoy a healthy energy boost.
  • Choose fish and seafood once a week or more for essential omega-3 fatty acids. Go for more salmon, tuna, shrimp, sardines or mussels next time you see them on a menu or on the shelf.
  • Keep a bag of pre-washed spinach handy. It’s an easy way to get antioxidant-rich vitamin A, fiber and plant-based iron. Add a handful to scrambled eggs, reheated leftovers or soups. Even add some to whole wheat pasta dishes that need a boost of nutrition.
  • Strive for one meatless meal each week, like a burrito bowl. It combines simple ingredients such as canned black beans and frozen bags of brown rice or quinoa. Add frozen sliced bell peppers or fresh spinach, single-serving guacamole cups and a spoonful of salsa for flavor.
  • Opt for dry-roasted legume snacks instead of potato chips. Chickpeas and edamame are crunchy, a little salty and packed with plant-based protein and fiber.
  • Add seeds to any meal for a small but mighty nutrient-dense boost. Mix into yogurt or oatmeal, blend into smoothies and sprinkle on salads, toasts or grain bowls. Some heart-healthy examples include flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds.
  • Treat yourself to some frozen dark sweet cherries for dessert. They boost your antioxidant and vitamin C intake to support a healthy immune system while satisfying a sweet tooth.

These guidelines are meant to be just that—guides to help you spot ways to bring healthier foods into your daily routine. But life happens and can throw your plans for a healthy meal off track. If it does, it’s OK to start again tomorrow. The most important thing is to try to limit the foods that can lead to inflammation and choose more of the healthier foods that help fight inflammation whenever you can.

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Published March 15, 2024


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