Just by tweaking what’s on our plates, we have the capability to elevate pretty much every single aspect of our life, said nutrition expert and regular “Today Show” contributor Joy Bauer. This is because of the ways in which what you eat can impact you both physically (managing weight, boosting endurance, improving blood flow and heart health) and emotionally (improving self-confidence, minimizing mood swings, boosting memory, elevating happiness, improving relationships, increasing optimism). How can all of that be achieved? It boils down to a few steps:
- Get your head in the game. In other words, you need to commit to a reason that’s meaningful to you. “Unless you dig deep down inside and know that you’re in this for yourself, it’s not going to happen,” Bauer said. She suggested sticking notes around your house and/or business to remind you of what motivates you.
- Be a goal-getter. That means not just long-term, big goals but short-term, weekly goals, with a spreadsheet that you monitor regularly. “That’s what’s going to fuel your motivation and give you a pat on the back week after week so you get to the long-term goal,” Bauer said.
- Forgive slip-ups. Perfection is overrated, Bauer said, noting that people in her “Joy Fit Club” who have lost at least 100 pounds from just diet and exercise saw much greater success once they learned to forgive themselves for setbacks. If 90 percent of the time you exercise and eat smart, Bauer noted, that gives you 10 percent wiggle room.
What types of foods should you eat to foster these benefits? Bauer suggested the following five foods to boost your energy, and then five foods to boost brain power:
- Walnuts. They have healthy fats and protein and can be enjoyed on their own, as part of a trail mix, as replacements for croutons in a salad, as binder in meatballs, or as part of a pasta or stir-fry dish.
- Swiss chard. Bauer said that this is “the new kale.” With a lot of plant-based iron and vitamin C, it provides an energy boost and mixes well with romaine lettuce, soup, eggs or a smoothie. It can also be sautéed in oil like spinach.
- Purple grapes. These help combat fatigue and make a good addition to peanut butter sandwiches and chicken salad.
- Tofu. Along with containing protein and iron to sustain energy, tofu also takes on the flavor of what it’s consumed with, Bauer said. That can be stir-fry, scrambled eggs or smoothies.
- Skinless dark-meat poultry. With twice the iron of white meat, dark meat helps deliver oxygen throughout the body, and is far better for you once you remove the skin. Bauer recommended using ground chicken or turkey for chili, meatballs and burgers.
- Cocoa powder. Dark chocolate helps keep blood vessels happy, healthy and elastic, Bauer said, transporting nutrients to the brain. Cocoa powder comprises 100 percent dark chocolate and can be mixed into smoothies, oatmeal, coffee, baked goods and chili, or added to vanilla Greek yogurt to make chocolate pudding.
- Coffee. Bauer noted that coffee benefits the body not just because of the energy from caffeine but antioxidants that increase short- and long-term brain power.
- Blueberries. Researchers at Harvard have found, Bauer said, that people who eat blueberries have better memory and do better on word-finding tests than those who don’t.
- Lentils. “Lentils don’t get enough love,” Bauer said, explaining that lentils provide protein and a lot of fiber to help you think clearly and stabilize your system.
- Celery. “Don’t feel like it’s a big nothing,” Bauer said of celery, which possesses anti-inflammatory power shown to protect brain health. “It’s actually helping your smarts.”