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6 foods that are good for your brain, and your bank account

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Thinking about money right now might hurt your head as much as your actual brain injury. You’re off full-time work, and when you try to go back and push through, you have a relapse of symptoms. You’re also noticing that since the brain injury, you’re having a harder time staying organized. It seems so much harder to keep track of your spending.

When you do get to looking at your budget, maybe you notice how much food is costing! It’s not easy. Food costs have legitimately been increasing more than your working wages (no, really —> Canada’s Food Price Report 2020).

You want to eat healthy on a limited budget, but you’re not sure how to do this.

Just recently someone sent me this question:

What are some nutrient-rich foods that are beneficial, but also cost-friendly in brain injury?

Brain injuries affect all parts of your life, and finances is one of them. You are not alone in this. Maybe you can’t control everything when it comes to the cost of food. But to give you some guidance where you do have some control, here is some inspiration 🙂

6 lower cost foods that can help your brain too 😉

#1 Frozen Cherries & Blueberries

Buying berries fresh can be nice. But they can go bad quickly. Plus, if you live somewhere where it’s winter for about half the year, you might not have access to these all the time (I’m missing me some summertime cherries right now!).

Fear not. Frozen berries, like all frozen foods, have been frozen soon after picking. This can retain a lot more nutrition than a fresh food picked before ripeness and shipped long distances (Bouzari et al. 2015). Like cars, produce can start to depreciate in value the moment they leave the lot. So freezing produce allows for preservation, without preservatives.

Cherries, Fruit, Red, Fruits, Cherry Harvest

In brain injury specifically, cherries and blueberries are loaded with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory goodness (specifically compounds called polyphenols plus vitamin C) that may help protect your brain (Kelly D.S. et al. 2018; Kelly E. et al. 2017).

Plus, they are super versatile. Berries for breakfast, berries in smoothies, berries in salad, berries in a crumble for dessert! You can’t go wrong 😉

#2 Frozen Spinach

Much like the above, getting this superfood in frozen format allows for some more of the nutrients to be maintained. Don’t get me wrong, spinach is great fresh as well. But it’s a delicate food that wilts quickly. Buying it frozen is not only cheaper, but prevents money lost when having to throw out spoiled spinach that sat in the fridge, squished at the bottom of the produce drawer just a little too long.

For the brain, dark green leafy vegetables also have nutrients that help with inflammation (think again of those polyphenols plus vitamins A, E and C). Diets that are high in these kinds of foods, including the infamous Mediterranean style of eating, is linked to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, possibly Alzheimer’s and other main illnesses linked to inflammation (Jiraungkoorskul W. 2016; Unlockfood.ca).

Spinach, Frozen Spinach, Frozen, Vegetable, Food, Green

Toss some frozen spinach in your pasta sauce, frittatas, soups and stews!

#3 Eggs

A good amount of protein plus key vitamins and minerals make eggs a great bargain. Plus eggs tend to be easily accessible in most grocery stores for a much lower cost than meat.

You may not think of eggs as good for the brain. In fact, when most people think of eggs, they may think of cholesterol and question whether these are a good choice. Research seems to be constantly playing tennis, going back and forth on this. But in my opinion, eating a few eggs every week has some great benefits.

On top of everything else, eggs are a great source of two interesting nutrients called choline and lutein. These two play an incredibly important role in brain and neuro development in the first part of an infant’s life. It also seems like lutein may prevent some cognitive decline throughout adulthood, which is good news for your recovering brain (Wallace 2018).

Breads, Breakfast, Delicious, Egg, Food, Food Plating

Eggs are easy to store and quick and easy to use. Whether hard cooked, in an omelette, or even in a stir fry, they pack some readily available nutrition.

#4 Canned Tuna or Salmon

Like eggs, canned fish is another great source of protein and nutrients, at a lower price. Although you’ve likely heard that fish can be good for your health, many people still don’t include it in their diet because they are unsure how to cook it! Canned varieties therefore offer up not only a bargain, but a solution to this cooking barrier.

When it comes to fish, you’ve also likely heard the types of fat found in seafood are linked to brain health (Virtanen et al. 2008). Specifically popular are fats called omega-3s. These fatty friends may help in lowering inflammation, and could also help prevent damage from injury! (Barrett et al. 2014) More research is likely to come, so stay tuned.

Tuna, Oil, Alimentari, Appetizer, Fish, Sea, Cool

And what about the omega-3 content in canned tuna or salmon? Well, despite what you may think, these varieties still pack a lot of omega-3 punch when compared to other fish. Plus these won’t go bad sitting on your counter (Seafood Health Facts).

So open up a can and throw some tuna or salmon into pitas, on crackers, in salads, or in a casserole!

#5 Oats

Ok people…we’re going to talk a bit about poop 😀

Many people I talk to who are recovering from brain injury are also having problems with poop — either too much, or not enough. This issue isn’t just something to wave off. Issues with stooling definitely can affect your appetite and willingness to eat, which of couse limits your nutrition.

Oats are a wonderfully simple solution to a number of poop problems. Why? Not only are they generally fast and easy to whip up, but they have a special type of fibre called soluble fibre. And it’s special because this type of fibre could help with both too many trips to the bathroom, or too few (disclaimer: this may not be true for everyone so talk with your dietitian today!) (Thalherimer, Aug 2016).

Almond Milk, Oat, Orange

Putting the poop aside, oats can also be anti-inflammatory! For a visual, think of the many soap, cream and skincare products based in oats that soothe itchy skin. Oats have phytochemicals, anti-oxidant nutrients in the same family as those discussed above in berries and spinach. Oats have also been shown to help lower cholesterol and manage blood sugar. And if that isn’t enough, oats may also help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer (Rasane et al. 2015).

Oats can be prepared either sweet or savoury! Try oatmeal in the morning or oats in place of other grains at dinner time.

#6 Peanuts

I feel like peanuts don’t get the recognition they deserve. All nuts are a good source of a family of fats called monounsaturated. These fats are linked to health benefits as they are generally high in diet patterns like the Mediterranean diet.

Nuts like walnuts, cashews, pecans and pistachios can add significant costs to your grocery bill. But peanuts offer good nutrition at a lower price, whether eaten whole or in the form of natural peanut butter. This is great news in brain injury, because a recent study just showed that ten or more grams of nuts a day was enough to keep cognitive decline away 🙂 (Li & Shi. 2019)

Food, Peanut, Butter, Snack, Healthy, Protein

How do you like your peanuts? Have them on their own, chopped and sprinkled onto oatmeal or yogurt, or put peanut butter in your smoothies, curries, and even some stews!

Looking at the bigger picture

There are many more foods that could make this list. And it’s likely where you live has a lot to do with what foods are accessible and cost-friendly to you.

In Canada a report on food prices is conducted every year. It’s clear from this report that at the individual level, there is a limit to what you can do to make your groceries cost less. The price of food is also at the hands of bigger level influencers like policy, trade agreements, inflation, conflicts in politics, and the weather (#ClimateChangeAction).

Climate Change, Climate, Drought, Dry Period

So if you are frustrated with your food bills, that is a very legitimate frustration! There’s no easy answer. So in this moment, all we can do is work with what you got.

Use this article as a guide for what you can do where you live. I will have more ideas on budget in brain injury to come. If you want updates, please do subscribe 🙂

And if you want a question of yours answered here, send me some suggestions! I’d love to hear what’s on your mind.

Best in brain health to you and yours,

Krystal Merrells, Registered Dietitian

References:

Barrett, E. C., McBurney, M. I., & Ciappio, E. D. (2014). ω-3 fatty acid supplementation as a potential therapeutic aid for the recovery from mild traumatic brain injury/concussion. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 5(3), 268–277. doi:10.3945/an.113.005280

Bouzari, Ali & Holstege, Dirk & Barrett, Diane. (2014). Vitamin Retention in Eight Fruits and Vegetables: A Comparison of Refrigerated and Frozen Storage. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 63. 10.1021/jf5058793. 

Canada’s Food Price Report 2020. Collaborative effort between Dalhousie University, led by the Faculties of Management and Agriculture, and the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute. Accessed online at https://www.dal.ca/sites/agri-food/research/canada-s-food-price-report.html

Jiraungkoorskul W. (2016). Review of Neuro-nutrition Used as Anti-Alzheimer Plant, Spinach, Spinacia oleracea. Pharmacognosy reviews, 10(20), 105–108. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.194040

Kelley, D. S., Adkins, Y., & Laugero, K. D. (2018). A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries. Nutrients, 10(3), 368. doi:10.3390/nu10030368

Kelly, E., Vyas, P., & Weber, J. T. (2017). Biochemical Properties and Neuroprotective Effects of Compounds in Various Species of Berries. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(1), 26. doi:10.3390/molecules23010026

Li, M. & Shi, Z. A. (2019) Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ _ China Health and Nutrition Survey

J Nutr Health Aging. 23: 211. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5

Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review. Journal of food science and technology, 52(2), 662–675. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1

Seafood Health Facts. Omega-3 (EPA+DHA) Levels in Common Fish and Shellfish. Accessed online at https://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood-nutrition/patients-and-consumers/omega-3-epadha-levels-common-fish-and-shellfish

Thalherimer, J.C. (Aug 2016) Fiber & Irritable Bowel Syndrome — Strategies for Counseling Patients. Today’s Dietitian Vol. 18 No. 8 P. 34. Accessed online at https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0816p34.shtml

unlockfood.ca All About Dark Leafy Greens (Last updated Nov 9 2017). Accessed at https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Cooking/Food-Preparation/All-about-dark-leafy-greens.aspx

Virtanen, J. K., Siscovick, D. S., Longstreth, W. T., Jr, Kuller, L. H., & Mozaffarian, D. (2008). Fish consumption and risk of subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults. Neurology, 71(6), 439–446. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000324414.12665.b0

Wallace, Taylor. (2018). A Comprehensive Review of Eggs, Choline, and Lutein on Cognition Across the Life-span. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 37. 1-17. 10.1080/07315724.2017.1423248. 

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