Feed Your HeadEating For Brain Health On The East End
“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are.” So said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin whose landmark work, The Physiology of Taste, is one of the foundational texts of modern cuisine. As it turns out, the French gastronome got it right. Food really does make the man (in a manner of speaking). A growing body of research suggests that nutrition or lack thereof exerts a powerful effect on mood and cognitive ability, shaping who we are in a multiplicity of ways. A peer-reviewed study in the journal Neuroscience found that people ages 55 to 99 who ate one to two servings of leafy greens a day were cognitively “younger” — meaning sharper, quicker, with stronger powers of recollection — by almost a decade than those who ate fewer of those vegetables. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce)! As Drew Ramsey writes in Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients That Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health (Harper Collins), “The top source of vitamin B2 is clams. Smaller fruits have more nutrients. Grass-fed beef has a healthier nutritional profile than chicken. The right choice in chocolate could help shave twenty years off your memory abilities.” An assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, Ramsey is an evangelist for the super powers of all things green.
By now, if you’re reading this from the veranda of your beach house, the message should be clear. Spending time on the East End of Long Island, where grass-fed beef, fresh-picked cavolo nero, just-dug shellfish, and artisan chocolates abound, could make you smarter. But only if you make the right choices. How to begin?
Samantha Elkrief, a health coach who works with Ramsey’s patients, has a few ideas on that score. “Eating for brain health is eating the rainbow,” says Elkrief — a formula which, she hastens to add, does not include gummy bears or other artificially-colored foods. By way of alternative, consider perfectly ripe fruit. In high July, this could mean the strawberries at Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, which are grown without chemical pesticides. As Elkrief notes, “When you eliminate processed foods from your diet and incorporate more nutrient-dense ones, your palate changes. Suddenly, you can really taste those berries.”
For breakfast, she suggests sweet potato “toast” topped with almond ricotta and fresh figs or half an avocado. To make the former, first, dig your potatoes. If you haven’t any in your vegetable patch, may we suggest a visit to the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning? Once there, pick up a few of the pale-skinned Japanese variety at the Quail Hill Farm stand, which are exceptionally sweet. As soon as you get home, cut the unpeeled tubers into quarter-inch thick slabs, put them on a tray, brush them with olive oil, season them with coarse sea salt and pepper, and pop them in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about fifteen minutes. Another stand-by breakfast is full-fat yogurt with berries and pumpkin seeds, which are high in zinc — a nutrient that is much-loved by the hungry brain, which consumes twenty percent of the body’s nutrients. Elkrief advises patients who, as she puts it, “struggle” with cow’s milk to try yogurt made from goat’s milk. If you don’t have any goat’s milk yogurt in the fridge, you now have an excuse to pet the baby goats at Goodale Farms, in Jamesport, where the diary produces probiotic-rich goat’s milk yogurt daily.
While you’re out, you’ll want to lay your hands on some local bluefish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and cognitive decline-slowing leafy greens. (Try KK’s the Farm in Southold for the latter.) “Overall, sometimes very small adjustments can lead to big changes,” says Elkrief. “You don’t have to give up the foods you love as long as you boost the nutrient-density of what you’re eating.” At a time when Silicone Valley millennials are “hacking” their own brains by ingesting all manner of untested substances, the idea of food-as-medicine seems positively antediluvian in a good way. Faced with the alternative — drugs whose long-term effects are unknown — feeding one’s head might be just the thing.