Content Provided by the GBS Health & Wellness Team
From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD
Consuming a healthful diet rich in a variety of key nutrients supports brain function. The practice of cooking further ramps up these cognitive benefits. The brain boosting advantages of cooking get even sweeter when spent in the company of others and sharing a meal that was created together.
Think about ways to cook and eat with others to reap the benefits from a shared pleasurable experience. Get creative on swapping recipes and photos with others OR invite someone to a virtual meal by walking through a recipe together.
Not quite convinced on the impact that cooking and sharing meals in the company of others can have on mental wellbeing? Check out the advantages below and get cooking!
The Value of Cooking with Others
Creates Bonds. Cooking with family or friends can help strengthen these relationships by encouraging a sense of trust, community, belonging, and closeness.
Supports Self and Group Care. Preparing a meal together can raise self-esteem and confidence for all involved by the development of a new skill and accomplishing a task with a reward.
Provides a Means to Practice Mindfulness. Cooking can offer a therapeutic way to be engaged and focused on the present. This facilitates a healthier lifestyle by improving concentration and reducing stress.
Improves Quality of Life. This social activity has a cumulative effect – it can save money, build a deeper appreciation for the foods that provide energy, and ultimately meet the basic human need of connection with others.
The Benefits of Sharing a Meal
Promotes Healthier Eating Habits. Eating with others can enhance the pleasure that is sought from the eating experience, which may in turn reduce the urge to turn to food for emotional reasons.
Creates a Space for Conversation. Sharing a meal creates the opportunity to connect with others, share in the joys and challenges of the day, practice listening, feel heard, learn something new, and engage in storytelling.
Facilitates a Moment of Daily “Pause.” The shared experience of eating together allows for a natural break and a chance to slow down the fast pace of life.
Boosts Brain Health. Communal eating triggers the release of mood enhancing hormones. It also aids in the release of hormones that improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, forms social skills, and stimulates pleasant feelings.
Supports Healthy Aging. A healthy diet paired with the social connection of “breaking bread together” is linked to promoting longevity and slowing both physical and mental age-related decline.
Brain Foods to Include in Your Cooking
A balanced diet doesn’t just fuel our bodies; it’s essential for optimal brain health and cognitive function. Certain nutrients have been identified as particularly beneficial for the brain, impacting everything from memory and concentration to mood and mental agility:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are essential fats that our bodies cannot produce on their own. Omega-3s play a pivotal role in maintaining the structure of brain cells. Foods rich in omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon, trout, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Regular consumption has been linked to reduced rates of depression, better focus, and a lowered risk of cognitive decline.
- Antioxidants: These compounds help combat oxidative stress, a contributor to age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases. Berries, especially blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are packed with antioxidants known to delay brain aging and enhance brain function.
- B Vitamins: B vitamins, particularly B12, B6, and folic acid, are vital for brain health. They can help reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood, high levels of which have been linked to an increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. You can find these B vitamins in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, and leafy green vegetables.
- Vitamin D: Often called the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D has various roles in the brain, impacting neurotransmitters and protecting neurons. A deficiency in Vitamin D has been linked to mood disorders like depression. Natural sunlight is a significant source, but it’s also found in fatty fish, fortified foods, and supplements.
- Flavonoids: Found in dark chocolate, tea, and certain fruits and vegetables, flavonoids have been shown to improve blood flow to the brain and boost cognitive functions. Some studies suggest they may delay age-related memory decline.
- Choline: This essential nutrient, found in eggs, beef liver, and soybeans, aids in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps regulate mood and memory.
- Iron: Iron helps with brain development and is essential for concentration. Lack of iron can lead to cognitive impairments. Rich sources include red meat, poultry, fortified cereals, and legumes.
Remember, while individual foods can be beneficial, a balanced and diverse diet will always be the best approach to ensure your brain gets the wide range of nutrients it requires. Incorporating these brain-boosting foods into your meals, especially when cooking and sharing with others, can amplify the cognitive benefits of the communal dining experience.