The next time you’re staring down a plate of broccoli and wishing it were a slice of cheesecake instead, know that you’re making your brain — not to mention your waistline — happy.

Feed your brain

The most visible sign of hunger might be a rumbling stomach, but your brain gets hungry, too. It requires nutritious food to fuel your body: It’s responsible for your thoughts and actions, moods and movements, and it works hard around the clock to keep you functioning. Even when you’re asleep, your brain is active. It deserves a little TLC, right? 

Eating healthy foods is an important step in providing your brain with the nourishment it needs. That bag of Cheetos might put a smile on your face (and orange dust on your fingers), but it isn’t doing your brain any favors. Look for foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to protect against free radicals — waste materials produced by the body that can damage cells. 

Watching what you eat is crucial to your mental and physical health. Give in to those junk food cravings and you risk harming your brain. Highly processed and refined foods are difficult for the brain to get rid of and can lead to serious health issues. Take sugar, for instance; it negatively affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin, promotes inflammation of cells, and helps those harmful free radicals cause damage to brain tissue. 

Scientists know a lot more about the connection between food and mood than they did in decades past. The popular phrase “you are what you eat” rings true: the foods you ingest directly affect your emotions and behavior. 

Healthy can be easy

Making smart food choices is the key to promoting a healthy brain and body. This might sound daunting — especially when you’re trying to please finicky children, who will pretty much always choose candy over an apple. Luckily, with a little creativity, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for nutrition. 

Snacking is as much a summer pastime for kids as swimming and riding bikes. Promote good habits by having healthy snacks on hand. Skip the potato chips and stock your pantry with kale chips or roasted chickpeas instead. Both are available in stores or can be made at home. Other good alternatives include almonds, pistachios, and popcorn.

Fresh sliced vegetables can also satisfy that crunch craving. Carrot sticks, cucumbers, celery, and radishes are all nutritious and tasty. Pair them with hummus, peanut butter, guacamole, or black bean dip for a flavor boost.

Take advantage of the summer fruit bounty, too. Strawberries, blueberries, and cherries are a delicious and healthy treat when the weather is warm — and even when it isn’t. Watermelons are the perfect summer treat; they’re low in calories and their high water content helps your kids stay hydrated. Try slicing one up sticking a popsicle stick in each slice before freezing for a delicious summer treat!

Easy swaps for healthier meals

Want to make mealtime healthier? Try the following healthy substitutions: 

• Oatmeal for sugary cereals

• English muffins for bagels

• Greek yogurt for sour cream

• Dried fruit for candy

• Sparkling water for fruit juice or soda

WORDS: MARK PETRUSKA