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Snacks for Better Brain Health

Tasty recipes that are good for your body and may strengthen your mind

En español | I have a personal interest in eating for brain health. My father has been diagnosed with early-stage dementia or MCI (mild cognitive impairment.)

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Coconut Granola with Blueberries and Walnuts, Snacks to Improve Brain Function

A snack like coconut granola with blueberries and walnuts may maintain or even boost brainpower. —

As I write, I'm in Florida visiting my parents, who are at that stage in life where they need my special attention. Looking back, I should have known something was wrong more than a year ago, when my father, who adores his only two granddaughters, didn't want to make the trip to my younger daughter's wedding. After lots of hand wringing, we decided that Dad would stay home and Mom would represent them both. She left him with all his meds in order, meals in place and a host of neighbors checking in on him.

But Dad's time alone did not go well. After Mom left, he was disoriented and unable to care for himself. We realized later that a new medication had exacerbated his condition, but the incident prompted us to consult a neurologist, who confirmed what we suspected.

That was January 2012. By the end of April, my parents called to say they had made the decision to move from their home of 30 years to a lovely three-stage retirement facility. We spent the summer selling their house and belongings, and now we're getting close to celebrating their one-year anniversary in a wonderful community with lots of activity.

I wish we could turn the clock back a few years so I could improve my dad's health with a better diet — but even if we could, I can imagine his laughing if I tried to serve him kale chips. "The only kale I'll eat," he'd say, "is long-simmered with a big piece of fatback!"

I realize that there's a good chance that my father's fate could be mine, so I do what I can for myself: I take fish oil (its omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to brain health), keep my mind active and rely on healthy recipes with lots of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices — which are thought to maintain or even boost brainpower — such as the ones I include here.

Coconut Granola With Blueberries and Walnuts

Makes 1 quart

If you can't find flaxseed meal, feel free to substitute wheat germ. New research shows that coconut oil can be good for you, but vegetable oil can substitute if you prefer that.

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup each: chopped walnuts and unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 275 degrees. Mix oats, flaxseed meal, salt, walnuts and coconut in a medium bowl. Bring agave, oil, water and cardamom to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Drizzle over oat mixture and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into a 13-by-9-inch pan coated with vegetable cooking spray. Working a handful at a time, squeeze cereal to form small clumps. Bake for 30 minutes. Stir in blueberries. Continue to bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Let cool and serve. (It can be stored in an airtight tin for 1 month.)

Chai Green Tea Concentrate

Makes 12 cups

Add 1/4 cup of this concentrate to either 3/4 cup water or milk. Serve hot or cold.

  • 4 teaspoons each: ground ginger, cinnamon and ground fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons each: ground black pepper, cardamom and coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 12 green tea bags (or 1/4 cup loose green tea)
  • 3/4 cup blue agave
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Stirring constantly, heat spices in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant and the first wisps of smoke start to rise, a couple of minutes. Add 4 cups of water and the tea, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for flavors to blend, about 10 minutes. Stir in agave, molasses, vanilla and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (It can keep that way for a couple of weeks.)

Kale Chips

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 bunch kale (about 8 ounces), curly or dinosaur, leaves cut from the ribs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt

Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper positions and heat oven to 275 degrees. Toss kale with oil and a light sprinkling of salt, and arrange in a single layer on each of 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Bake until kale is crisp, about 30 minutes.

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