The Healthy Mind Cookbook {REVIEW} – Recipes for Brain Health

The Healthy Mind Cookbook Review - Yummy Recipes to Keep Your Brain Healthy

Is there someone on your holiday gift list who’s been grumbling about memory problems lately–or someone who seems kind of mopey or nervous? If they also like to cook, maybe a book full of healthy recipes for mind-enhancing meals would help them brush off their brains and feel more functional in the new year!

The Healthy Mind Cookbook by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson could be a great gift for amateur chefs who want to maintain their brains with tasty food! I’d especially recommend it to people who are accustomed to eating meat on a regular basis: The book has a whole chapter of meaty main dishes and explains which meats nourish the brain.

For those of us who eat less meat, this cookbook still has a lot to offer: soups, hearty snack/meals, vegetable side dishes, “dollops” to use as sauce or dip, beverages, and desserts. Vegetables and fruits abound! Many recipes use nuts, beans, or eggs as protein.

Before the recipes, the first 40 pages of the book give lots of information about food’s effects on the brain, as well as kitchen strategies to simplify cooking “from scratch” and tips on how to combine basic ingredients for great flavor. It’s an excellent book for someone who’s experienced at following recipes but wants to become more comfortable cooking by touch and adjusting recipes to personal tastes.

Most of the recipes are gluten-free and/or dairy-free, an advantage to chefs who have dietary restrictions themselves or often cook for people who do.

How Does Diet Impact Brain Health?

The Healthy Mind Cookbook begins by explaining how our high-tech world is putting new demands on our cognitive functioning and mood stability, and how giving our brains the right fuel helps us to cope. Before we can picture a boring but nutritious gruel, Katz starts exulting about the 85 delicious ingredients that are best for the brain, which are so varied in flavor that everyone is bound to like some of them–and we don’t have to eat all of them to build healthy brains!

Eating For Brain Health

She presents quick, readable summaries of the research on how food can modulate the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression and improve memory, cognition, and learning. She explains methylation and the important role of dark green, leafy vegetables. There’s a bit about the connections between the brain, enteric nervous system, and sympathetic nervous system, and the importance of mindful eating.

The chapter “The Culinary Pharmacy” lists those 85 mind-improving ingredients in alphabetical order and summarizes each one’s credentials. From allspice to yogurt, these are versatile foods and mostly familiar items available in mainstream supermarkets. Reading through this, you’ll easily find reassurance that you’re already eating many things that are good for your brain.

Making Healthy Food Taste Great

Next, Katz shares the basic strategy of combining fat, acid, salt, and sweet to create fabulous flavor. A chart of healthy vs. unhealthy choices in each category helps you see how you might improve favorite recipes. She explains the role of umami (savory flavors) and spices.

Cooking a meal from scratch can seem overwhelming. Katz reminds us that there are really 5 phases to creating a meal–planning, shopping, preparation, cooking, and cleanup–and these do not have to be done all in a row without pausing. She shares make-ahead strategies and “culinary choreography” for ordering tasks efficiently. These reassurances will be very useful to people who’ve been cooking from packages but are eager to try more homemade food.

After an explanation of the importance of organically-grown produce (when you can find and afford it), we move on to the healthy recipes!

Healthy Recipes to Feed Your Brain – The Cookbook Review

Skimming through the recipes in The Healthy Mind Cookbook, at first I was kind of discouraged. I saw a lot of things I’d gladly eat if somebody made them for me . . . but not so many recipes that I wanted to make. This cookbook may be a better match for other people’s personal tastes than it is for mine.

I’m a big fan of one-pot meals, main dishes that need just one or two easily-prepared sides, and assemble-your-own meals like burritos. I don’t usually put in the effort to make a complicated side dish if it isn’t hearty enough to be eaten as a meal. So that ruled out most of the soups, salads, and things like Cauliflower Tabbouleh. I might have been more interested in these if they were accompanied by serving suggestions like, “makes a great side with a salmon fillet.”

The other turn-off was that most of the recipes are sort of “chef-y American.” It’s hard to describe what I mean, but I love Asian flavors and interesting combinations, and a lot of these recipes seemed sort of ordinary. I recently read about how people who love the vegetarian meals that are traditional in India don’t usually like French vegetarian restaurants where the dishes focus on the flavor of the vegetables instead of turning a bunch of vegetables into a dish, and that articulates it pretty well.

About 90% of recipes in The Healthy Mind Cookbook are things I might order in a restaurant but wouldn’t bother trying at home. For example, the two lentil recipes sound much like a lentil soup and a lentil salad recipe I’ve had before–nothing new to try.

salmon

My family doesn’t cook any meat other than seafood. This cookbook’s “Meat and Seafood” section really should be called “Seafood and Meat” because the seafood recipes come first, and seafood (especially wild salmon) is so good for your brain! We didn’t need new salmon recipes; my 5-year-old only likes plain salmon, and the rest of us like it with seasonings that are easily applied at the table.

But I’d learned from this book that shrimp is loaded with Vitamins B12 and B6, choline, and zinc–all good for the brain–and both kids and I love shrimp, although their father isn’t so keen on it. We don’t have shrimp often because of the high price and environmental impact. As a special treat, I decided to spring for a bag of sustainably-harvested shrimp and make Simple Shrimp Scampi.

“Anytime Foods” is a chapter of small meals and hearty snacks designed to “promote a slow absorption of sugar into the bloodstream” and prevent the mind-altering panic of sudden hunger. These recipes range from egg dishes to rice salad to hummus to lightly-sweetened protein bites. This is where I got excited, seeing five mini-muffin recipes that all looked delicious! On closer inspection, I realized these are variations on the same basic recipe, but that’s okay: I had never baked with almond meal before and was eager to give it a try.

Although I didn’t make any of the “Dollops,” I like the author’s approach in presenting a whole chapter of homemade condiments that can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, ready to jazz up simple foods like steamed broccoli, baked fish, or green salad. In addition to flavor, the dollops add healthy fat and brain-enhancing ingredients. This is a great idea for families in which some people prefer plain food but others like complex flavors. Instead of cooking a lot of seasoning into the food, you can make something plain and let each person choose her dollop.

“Tonics and Elixirs” is a chapter of beverages that add brain-boosting nutrients to your hydration. Most of them are low in calories but sound quite satisfying to drink. I plan to try some of these when I recover from testing and researching mushroom cocoa, rooibos tea, and peppermint tea–all of which have some brain benefits, by the way.

The Healthy Mind Cookbook Review - Keep Your Brain Healthy With Nutritious Recipes

Even the desserts in this cookbook are packed with mind-nurturing fruits and nuts! Some have no added sweetener, using cooking techniques to bring out the natural sweetness of fruit. Others contain a smallish amount of maple syrup, rich in zinc and manganese. I’m going to bake Fall Pear Crisp as soon as possible!

Testing 3 Brain-Healthy Recipes in My Kitchen

There are at least a dozen recipes in The Healthy Mind Cookbook that I’d like to try, but I needed to restrain myself to recipes that would fit into my family’s existing plans and use ingredients readily available in late autumn. A lot of appealing recipes use fresh produce that would be awesome in the summer but not as good (and more expensive) out of season–like zucchini, tomatoes, melon, and peaches.

On the other hand, almond flour was on sale in bulk at my local food co-op. The tasty-sounding muffin recipes inspired me to try an ingredient that was new to me!

So I settled on making Simple Shrimp Scampi for dinner, with spaghetti and steamed broccoli and cauliflower as accompaniments to soak up the delicious sauce. Then, in a single afternoon, my 5-year-old assistant baker (who knows how to cook) and I made two of the mini-muffin recipes:

  • Apple, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Currant Muffins
  • As soon as they were out of the oven, we reused our mixing bowls and muffin tins to make Cranberry, Orange, and Apricot Muffins.

Apple, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Currant Muffins

Dense yet delicate and delicious, these mini-muffins are a substantial snack for their small size. Almond meal and eggs give them a lot of protein and healthy fat. They’d be perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up in the office or in between school and sports. (Pack them carefully, though, because they’re crumbly!)

For this recipe, you cook diced apple and spices in olive oil in a small skillet, then let that cool while you make the batter. This worked out well, softening the apple chunks so that they aren’t too obtrusive in the muffins.

We used raisins instead of currants because raisins are one of our pantry staples, and currants are more expensive–though higher in many nutrients than raisins.

Raisins are kind of big for such small muffins. Probably I should have “coarsely chopped” them like the cranberries in the other muffins.

I was skeptical about the flavor of an apple muffin made with olive oil and lemon juice, but the overall combination of flavors is quite good. The lemon juice is the acid that reacts with the baking soda to fluff up the muffins a bit–but, being made with almond meal instead of wheat flour, they don’t get much larger while baking. You can fill the muffin cups to the top instead of the usual half-full.

These muffins have a pleasant autumnal flavor, not too sweet, perfect with a cup of tea. My partner Daniel liked these better than the others.

Cranberry, Orange, and Apricot Muffins

These were a big hit with my kids, two visiting teens, and me! Two kinds of dried fruit, plus orange zest, create intensely yummy flavor that’s a bit different in each little bite as you savor the mini-muffin. The dried fruit also makes these muffins a bit sweeter than the apple ones.

If you love cranberry-orange bread, this recipe gives you the same great flavor, gluten-free, with almonds (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) to boost your mood and improve your vascular functioning! The almond flavor is noticeable, but I think it works really well with the other flavors in both types of muffins.

Cranberry, Orange, and Apricot Muffins

Even easier than the apple muffins, this recipe only requires zesting the orange and chopping the dried apricots and cranberries before making the basic almond-meal muffin batter and stirring in the fruit.

Simple Shrimp Scampi

This truly is a simple recipe. It has 9 ingredients. and it cooks very quickly and is easy to tell when it’s done. The one tricky aspect (don’t burn the garlic!) is clearly explained in the blurb at the top of the recipe and by specifying “sauté for 30 seconds” in the instructions.

Where I had some difficulty was with the instruction, “cook until the liquid has reduced by half.” When you have ¼ cup of white wine bubbling in a 12″ cast-iron skillet, how do you tell when it’s boiled down to 1/8 cup? I tried to guess . . . and I may have jumped the gun, as my sauce was very thin and runny. (Shrimp scampi in restaurants often has such a thick, glistening sauce–I wonder if they add cornstarch or something? The Healthy Mind Cookbook has no picture of this recipe, so I’m not sure what the sauce texture is supposed to be.)

Shrimp Scampi

Otherwise, this was quite easy to make. And it’s delicious!

My 14-year-old said, “Haven’t we had this before? Isn’t it the same as birthday shrimp?” It’s true that when he’s requested shrimp as his birthday dinner, I’ve cooked them in the skillet with garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and salt–but I didn’t use wine, used butter instead of olive oil, and didn’t measure anything. Using this recipe instead of winging it, I think the flavor came out more balanced!

The Healthy Mind Cookbook {REVIEW}
Overall
90
  • Variety of Recipes - 85
  • Delicious Recipes? - 100
  • Research Backed Info - 100
  • Clearly Written & Easy to Read? - 75

Overall Review:

Pros and Cons of The Healthy Mind Cookbook

The Healthy Mind CookbookThere are many things to like about The Healthy Mind Cookbook:

  • lots of science-backed information about foods that are good for your brain;
  • encouragement and clear strategies for making your own healthy food;
  • tasty recipes that may inspire you to try new ingredients;
  • logically ordered steps and clearly written instructions;
  • snacks to help you keep up with your personal metabolic clock and avoid grabbing junk food;
  • sauces that let family members customize their meals to their tastes;
  • helpful chapter organization, table of contents, and index;
  • the binding that opens flat, so you don’t have to figure out how to hold the book open while you’re cooking!!

One thing I didn’t like was the number of non-seafood meat recipes (17) compared to bean and lentil recipes (10–3 of which are hummus, and 2 of which also include meat). Both beans and lentils are packed with healthy-mind nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, choline, and zinc. They’re also high in fiber, low in environmental impact, and less expensive than most meats. (Here are my bean recipes and lentil recipes!) This book is printed in very small type. I’d guess that the recipe instructions are 10-point and the ingredient lists are 9-point. I was able to read it placed directly under my bright under-cabinet lighting, but I’m just beginning to have middle-aged difficulty with small print. This is something to take into consideration if you’re giving the cookbook to an older person. (Maybe give it with a cookbook magnifier!) Overall, The Healthy Mind Cookbook is a helpful resource for anyone seeking to get more brain-building, homemade foods into their diet. I’m glad I read it! My kids are already asking when we can make more cranberry muffins….

Pros

  • science-backed info
  • tasty recipes
  • clearly written instructions
  • healthy snack ideas to avoid junk food
  • binding opens flat

Cons

  • small print
  • too many meat recipes for my preference
How has your diet affected your mood and mental clarity?

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