Healthy Brain Food on a Budget

One of the components we review within our Thrive Recovery Workbook is healthy nutrition. The goal is not weight loss ... it is more fortifying the brain and body against stress. Giving your brain what it needs to stay healthy and strong. Which the benefits will help you feel better, sleep better, and have calmer, more sustained energy throughout the day (avoiding the late day crash) ... and yes the benefit of starting to shed some unwanted weight. 

In fact with some we've coached through the Thrive program, after one week, they came to their following appointment saying they feel a little better, refreshed, sleeping better and in many cases saying their anxiety is lower. 

Changing the way you eat can feel emotionally overwhelming and even challenging the bank account! Yes, a $4 large family size bag of frozen tatter tots vs. a $2 single size bag of snow peas does not compare in value of quantity ... and we typically feel happier eating tatter tots dipped in ranch sauce. Yum! However, the quality and benefits of a $2 bag snow peas will provide more stability for the brain and body, than fried, greasy tatter tots. Yes, eating less portions of unhealthy options (which can be a good thing) can be hard, but eating more "power" for your brain and body will lend towards life improving. Your emotions and body will grumble (and maybe growl), but they will catch-up to your new quality of life ... and love the benefits. 

So let's dive in to the process of making simple changes that will bring more brain quality and benefit. 

1. Ditch the sugar drinks (sodas) and overloading on caffeine. Drink enough water throughout the day that you keep you visiting the "facilities." Water can help with serotonin levels and your neurons need to be hydrated to communicate well. A great tip is to chug a big tall glass first thing when you get up in the morning. This starts your metabolism while reducing hunger and cravings. Overall, you’ll be shocked at how this lowers cravings for foods, especially sweets.

If you’re running on caffeine and high sugar drinks or in hyperdrive (if you wonder if that’s you; it most likely is) your brain is probably craving sugars, because of the pace of our society ... while your body is not actually in need of calories. This is why we tend to gain weight in our culture and still remain hungry. We eat lots of refined sugars that contain zero nutrients, yet add calories and make our brains feel good and give us happy mood and energy for a time (at least until we crash and need another hit of sugar). Our brain and body needs the right energy and strength, not the sugar and caffeine push just to make it through the day! 

2. Read ingredient lists. The first ingredient listed is highest in quantity with the last ingredient listed being the lowest in quantity. “Less is more.” Be a smart shopper and take time to compare items. It's hard to get away from products not containing lots of processed chemicals, however choose the shorter list. 

3. Stop eating out. Let's face it all those commercials for the restaurants and the quick food options seem to hit the spot for only $5. Additionally, eating out is much more expensive, causing you to need to work more; thus leading to an ever increasingly busy lifestyle, requiring convenient (generally unhealthy) food options over healthy, life sustaining food options. SO, the money you save forgoing eating out can go towards healthier options at the grocery store.

Eating in for the week can be creative and fun! If you are running at such a high pace in life that you think you don’t have time to cook; just consider rescheduling for what you know your brain and body needs, not trying to save time. You can even think about cooking ahead to save time. Make meals on Sunday and throw ‘em in the freezer. OR better yet, cook enough to have left overs for lunch the next day. 

4. Keep a Treat. Having pizza, cookies, or even the tatter tots every once in a while will not cause you to go down hill. Eat the fun foods as a treat, but keep them as treats, not the main course! 

Changing is Overnight ... and the next two. No one’s perfect and it can sound daunting to make this new change for the next month. Everyone is in a unique season of life and if you are like us, we can find excuses to delay staring new things until "next week." The goal is to take the next step you can toward a healthy lifestyle. Pick one or two things that you can start implementing within the next 3 days. You might feel you can start with better breakfast options. Or you might begin by not drinking any Dr. Pepper in the evening, especially that last can before bed. You might find it easier to sleep. Instead you can switch by drinking more water. Which ever it is, start with something you know you can change well. Then, continue to grow with more and more small changes. Be creative and you will start a positive cycle of health that you can then build upon.

Now let's dive into specific food options and ideas for different meals that are affordable and clean. 

5 lb bag of potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Avocado, Apples, Oranges, Bananas and In season fruits. Raw kale, Baby carrots, Snap peas, Turkey lunch meat (used about once a week), Box of Minute brown rice , Old fashioned oatmeal (plain in large canister), Whole Grain Pasta, Whole grain tortillas, Whole Grain Breads (w/ as few ingredients or additives as possible)

Low sugar granola (you can even bake your own using oil, honey, cinnamon, and oats! & it makes your house smell better than cookies :D

Beans (canned), Peanut Butter (w/ no hydrogenated oils)

Nuts, Hummus (or make your own with canned chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice), Honey & jelly (w/ no high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup), Pasta sauce (w/ no high fructose corn syrup)

Swai or tilapia fish fillets (whatever’s plain white fish is least expensive) (frozen bag), Eggs (not treated with hormones)

Butter, Greek Yogurt (not treated with hormones), Frozen peas & any other vegetables

Changing Foods For The Brain and Body. Ideas for a meal schedule. 

Breakfast: Any fruit, Oatmeal with cinnamon or with peanut butter, honey and a banana. 

Greek Yogurt Parfait (yogurt, fruit, granola)

Eggs, black beans, and a whole wheat tortilla with salsa - also called a breakfast burrito :)

Mid-Morning Snack: (avoiding big meals and eating small snack sized meals more frequently will keep your energy level more steady throughout the day and reduce cravings for high fat/sugar foods)

Any fruit, small bag of nuts, half a peanut butter banana sandwich

Lunch: Lettuce wrap with turkey & avocado and dressing of your choice; side of carrots with hummus. 

Cup of soup with Chips and salsa or an apple

Salad (kale, spinach, balsamic vinegar, (topped with any veggie, fruit, or seeds/nuts)

Sweet Potato (you can wrap these in wet paper towel and microwave for ease.) With a small salad or a leftover piece of grilled/baked chicken.

Afternoon Snack: Any piece of fruit, nuts, Hummus with snap peas

Dinner: Pasta with broccoli with or a non-hormone treated meat (fish, chicken, low-fat red meat) & a vegetable (beans, salads, any veggie with vibrant color)

Dessert Treat: Strawberries dusted with powdered sugar or topped with homemade whipped cream

*If your plate has lots of color; then you’re headed in a winning direction, this doesn't mean a huge bowl of lucky charms or Trix (which you might tell yourself to be the silly rabbit and it's not for you) ... keep it colorful with the healthy options!

Have fun eating well for your brain and body wellness! 

Contributed by Colorado Low with Joe Padilla (CEO/Founder) - The Grace Alliance