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Peak Performance: Health tips from JP Cavalluzzo and Joannah Lawson

Did you know that what you eat affects your brain-health? While that may sound scary, it can actually be empowering to know you can take positive steps to augment your cognitive performance, memory and mental health through your food choices.

In speaking with Dr. Richard Bazinet, a neuroscientist in the Department of Nutrition at University of Toronto’s School of Medicine, we asked about food and brain health. He said the foods that are good for heart-health are generally also good for your brain. This would include the Mediterranean Diet and eating whole foods while avoiding processed and sugary foods. This is good news knowing that by taking care of your heart, you are getting a two-for-one deal by also caring for your brain.

Dr. Bazinet went on to say that grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chickens contain a healthier fat profile for our brain and heart health than grain-fed animals. The key is the higher Omega 3 fat relative to Omega 6 in naturally raised meat and dairy products. Omega 3 fats can also be found in cold-water fish like salmon, walnuts, and seeds like flax, chia and hemp. These seeds were key ingredients in brain-healthy smoothies made at UCC for Mental Health Week.

For Mental Health Week, the boys had the opportunity to sign up for workshops including mindfulness, yoga, art therapy, chair massage, drumming circle, dance revolution, comedy, sports, and concussion awareness. Sixty of the boys participated in a smoothie-making workshop using ingredients that promote brain health. The workshop was lead by parent and nutritionist Nathalie Niddam. (See recipes below.)

Niddam emphasized the health benefits of the ingredients in the smoothies and offered great tasting alternatives to using sugar. Most of all, she suggested the boys have fun making up their own smoothie recipes. As such, we have created a formula for how to make your own smoothie recipe, being sure to include all the key elements for nutrition and great taste.

If you are interested in reading about which 10 foods to eat to protect brain health and which five to avoid, according to the MIND Diet from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, click here.

You might feel good knowing that UCC’s Lower Dining Hall offers healthy smoothies every day while many other brain-health promoting ingredients are available at all the dining outlets, including leafy greens, whole grains, fish and legumes.

Create Your Own Smoothie

For fun and to cater to your own tastes, create your own smoothie recipe following a formula, as an alternative to following a set recipe.

Formula: Base + Protein + Fat + Fibre + Vegetable/Fruit + Flavour

Note that some foods fit more than one of these categories.

• Start with a cup of liquid base, eg. water, yogurt, kefir, brown rice milk, almond milk, coconut water, coconut milk, hemp milk, organic soy milk.

• Add a protein. It may already be in the base. But if the base is water, coconut water/milk or rice milk, add a protein powder like whey or hemp or nut butter, nuts or seeds. Use one scoop of whey (choose whey from grass-fed cows if possible) or hemp protein powder.

• Add a healthy fat, eg. chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, nuts, nut butters, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, raw cocoa butter. Recommended: 1 tbsp added fat or ½ avocado.

• Add fibre eg. chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, berries.

• Add vegetable and fruit. This is a great way to add vegetables to your diet. Good options are baby spinach, baby kale, avocado, and herbs. Over time, gradually use more vegetables than fruit to get used to the change. Recommended: ½ banana, ½ cup berries to start before cutting back on fruit.

• Add flavour eg. grated ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, mint leaves, fresh lemon juice or zest, unsweetened raw cacao powder. Recommended: small amounts like 1 tsp to 1 tbsp.

• For extra sweetness, you can add sweet fruit like pitted dates or bananas, monk fruit powder (tastes just like sugar!) or lucuma powder (a bit less sweet than sugar).

Consider texture eg. If you need to make it thicker, you can do so with ground flax, banana, avocado, or Greek yogurt. If it needs to be thinner, you can add water or a watery fruit or vegetable.

You can make it colder by adding ice cubes or by chilling the ingredients before you start. Berries and bananas can be used right from the freezer.

Most of all, have fun!

Smoothie Recipes

Directions: For both types of smoothie, blend all ingredients in a powerful blender. Yields two servings. Refrigerate for up to three days and re-blend before drinking as ingredients may settle.
Here’s an idea: Freeze unused coconut milk in ice cube trays and freeze peeled bananas in plastic bag to use as needed.

Chocolate Smoothie

• 2 cups organic whole milk (grass-fed is best for Omega 3)
• 1/2 can organic coconut milk & 1 can water (shake can thoroughly before opening)
• 2 cups organic unsweetened coconut beverage from carton

• ½ cup organic spinach

• 1 tbsp ground flax, chia & hemp seeds

• 2 pitted dates

• 1 tsp vanilla

• 1/3 to 1/2 small banana (depending on how much you like banana taste)

• 1/4 avocado

• 2 tbsp raw unsweetened cacao powder (no sugar added!)

• Pinch of sea salt

• ¼ cup ice cubes


Strawberry Smoothie

• 2 cups organic whole milk (grass-fed is best for Omega 3)
• ½ can organic coconut milk & 1 can water (shake can thoroughly before opening)
• 2 cups organic unsweetened coconut beverage from carton

• ½ cup organic spinach

• 1 tbsp ground flax, chia & hemp seeds

• 2 pitted dates

• 1 tsp vanilla

• 1 tsp cinnamon

• 1 small banana

• ¼ avocado

• ½ cup frozen organic strawberries

• Pinch of sea salt