Better Foods for Thought

Navindra Seeram, Ph.D. on training your gut to get the most out of your diet, eating a rainbow, and making food your medicine.

There are more than 100 trillion bacteria in your gut, says Professor of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences Navindra Seeram—and they help determine how you respond to different foods. “If your gut isn’t right, you’re not right,” says Seeram, whose research focuses on using plant foods and natural products to prevent and treat chronic illnesses. “Without the right microbiota, you can’t get the most nutritional bang for your buck.”

Fortunately, plant foods can go a long way toward keeping your gut in balance, Seeram says. “When you enable the good bacteria in your gut to thrive, you can convert foods into beneficial compounds that help prevent neuroinflammation and disease.” 

Simple ideas for brain-healthy eating:

Add color to your life. “There’s a reason humans see color,” Seeram says. Choose berries, whole fruits like pomegranates and oranges, and leafy and colorful vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, purple cabbage, and carrots, which all contain beneficial antioxidants.

Go red instead of white. Red wine is made with the skin and seeds of red and purple grapes, while white wine is pressed from  grapes without the skins or seeds. Other fruits—such as berries, apples, watermelon, oranges, and even lemons—also contain valuable nutrients in their skins or seeds.

Keep it simple. “You don’t have to go to the extreme,” says Seeram. The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, is easy to follow, says Seeram. “You can practice it anywhere.”

You can train your palate. “You inherit your palate. In the U.S., our palates are taught or trained to eat processed foods. If you had your kid eat broccoli from age two, he or she would inherit that palate.” As you add fruits and veggies to your diet, or cut down on processed foods, you’ll find that over time your cravings will change. 

Take control. “Food is your medicine,” says Seeram. “For the majority of us, it’s within our control to choose what we eat and give ourselves the best advantage. You can’t be passive and hope you won’t get disease.” Go after better health––and aging––with nutrient-packed foods.