According to the National Health Information Center, March 11 to 17 is Brain Awareness Week. Brain Awareness Week appropriately falls within National Nutrition Month: what we eat directly impacts our brain function. Indeed, our brain uses more energy than any other part of our body; between 20 and 30 percent of the calories we consume goes to powering our brains.
Our brains use so much energy because the nerves in the brain are constantly firing and forming new connections. As we age, the ability to form new brain connections declines. However, maintaining an adequate nutrient status by eating a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids can help keep our brains plastic. For example, studies suggest that adequate intakes of vitamins E and C, vitamin B12, and folate may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer ’s disease. Essential fatty acids (especially omega-6 and omega-3 fats) are also needed to promote neurotransmitter release, and deficiencies of these fatty acids have been associated with motor and cognitive impairment in rats. Additionally, other dietary antioxidants such as beta-carotene can protect against oxidative stress, which some researchers believe may be a major contributor to brain aging.
What should we eat then to supply our brains with all of these vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants? One of the best foods for delivering all of these beneficial compounds in one package is an avocado. Avocados contain more than 20 vitamins and minerals, are rich sources of beneficial fatty acids, and are considered by the US Department of Agriculture to be one of the fruits and vegetables that supply the most antioxidants.
So, in honor of Brain Awareness Week, try out this delicious creamy chocolate pudding made with avocados. The cocoa powder in the pudding also provides brain-boosting flavanoids. A review article published in February in the British Journal of Nutrition linked cocoa flavonoids with better brain function and increased cerebral blood flow. Studies also show cocoa consumption can improve performance on memory tasks and other brain teasers. Plus, this pudding recipe contains no added sugar. Instead, dates are used to sweeten it up. Dates are excellent sources of potassium, an electrolyte which transmits nerve impulses throughout the brain.
Brain-Boosting Chocolate Avocado Pudding
1 cup coconut milk
12 medjool dates (found in produce section), pitted
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup cocoa powder
In a food processor or high-powered blender, blend together the coconut milk, dates, and vanilla until there are no more date chunks. Add in the avocado and cocoa powder and blend until completely smooth. Transfer to bowl. Let cool in fridge overnight.
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
3 medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
Blend all ingredients in high-powered blender until smooth and creamy.
Natalie Obermeyer is a first year student in the Nutrition Communication and Masters of Public Health programs. When she is not studying, reading, or writing, she loves to run, hike, ski, play outdoors in the sunshine, and experiment in the kitchen.