Alton Brown dishes on food’s impact on a brain-healthy routine, interview

Award-Winning Chef Alton Brown launches Neuriva’s 30-Day Brain Health Challenge at an intimate dinner party in New York City.
Award-Winning Chef Alton Brown launches Neuriva’s 30-Day Brain Health Challenge at an intimate dinner party in New York City. / Neuriva

Many people have come to know Alton Brown for his encyclopedia-like knowledge of food, science and history. While his quick wit engages an audience, it is more than a vast list of facts and figures that has people astounded by his understanding of food. His personal connection to the advice that he offers invites everyone to pick up the fork. The result is not only a delicious meal but also a boost to cognitive health.

Alton Brown has been a partner with Neuriva. Many people have seen Brown on the brand’s commercials. While he has been the face of the brand, he is also a believer in its products. Previously, Brown shared how he supplements his balanced eating food choices with the Neuriva offerings.

Still, Brown understands that food is the foundation to a better brain-healthy routine. While he has joined Neuriva to encourage people to join the 30-Day Brain Health Challenge, it is more than a month-long commitment to redefine cognitive potential. Changes in overall lifestyle can foster a deeper understanding of how food and health are always intertwined.

Recently, FoodSided spoke with Brown regarding the 30-Day Brain Health Challenge and his approach to balanced eating. In addition to having some flavorful, approachable dishes full of better for you ingredients, Brown understands that people need to consciously choose to make changes. It is the commitment to process and appreciating the results that can keep people on track.

Specifically, the Neuriva program is a 30 day challenge. When asked why he thinks that this time frame works, Brown said, “Personally, I feel westerners, or at least Americans are used to thinking in terms of months, so it’s a good interval; for many it’s enough time to establish patterns and habits. We also accept a month as an adequate amount of time to give a life-style change a try, like Dry January.  As for individual results in that time period, everyone is different so as they say in commercials “results may vary.” 

Although results may vary, the reality is that seeing is believing. People can appreciate a great plate of food for its flavor, but the impact that it can have on how they feel appears long after they leave the table.

At the same time, it does not have to be drastic or extreme change. Simple swaps or little additions can and do make a difference.

As Brown said, “For me, I tend to adopt changes better if I tackle it in smaller chunks rather than massive, drastic change. If you can do that, great, but it’s tough for me. I started keeping a basic record of my eating so that I could be sure to get in my target of three servings of dark leafy greens times a week, as well as some form of whole grain each and every day, which is easy for me because I like oatmeal and typically cook it with a couple of tablespoons of quinoa added to the pot. And, I made a point of cooking with olive oil instead of butter. I’ve replaced almost all red meat in my diet with mushrooms, as more and more scholarship is pointing to their supporting brain health, especially lion’s mane mushrooms, which are also delicious.”

Given that many people have come to appreciate choosing certain ingredients to benefit heart health or stronger bones, the brain boosting qualities that food offers are not necessarily on the label. Even though people might have to do a little more reading on the whats and whys, many of the ingredients are ones that people enjoy. The impact that eating those foods have on how people feel might be an internal measure, but it can be appreciated.

Brown believes, “I think it’s natural for people to concentrate more on moving parts, not to mention, what they can see in a mirror. And let’s face it, that thing inside our heads is still pretty mysterious stuff, and frankly brain science, from a health and wellness standpoint is still relatively new, at least when compared to our understanding hearts and bones. Almost anything that’s good for your body, nutrition wise, is going to be good for your brain, so eating a balanced, nutrition forward diet and staying away from the stuff that we all know we should stay away from, is a good start. But we have learned a lot over just the last few decades about what our brains need to run effectively. Polyunsaturated fats, like quality olive oil, is good for our brains as are leafy greens, nuts (especially walnuts), fatty fish (I’m a huge sardine fan, so I’m in luck), and blueberries.”

While Brown has a variety of recipes that include many of these products, he appreciates that it is a total concept. If the other life aspects are out of balance, the impact to healthy brain routine will not be as great.

In this total approach, Brown said, “First, it’s hard to overstate the importance of natural sleep. The brain does a lot of maintenance while we’re snoozing and most of us don’t get nearly enough. I try to take half an hour every day when all I literally do is breath, slowly and deeply, five seconds in, five seconds hold, five seconds out, five seconds hold. It’s better for me than meditation because when I try to meditate, I almost always fall asleep. I also think everyone should have some kind of creative outlet like playing an instrument or making some kind of art, even just doodling on a pad.”

Whether it is giving yourself permission to turn off the phone for a few minutes a day or choosing to bang some drums to your own beat, all those positive choices can make for a balanced routine as well as help to boost that brain health.

In the end, taking Neuriva’s 30-Day Brain Health Challenge is not as daunting as it might seem. It might not be the journey to be beach ready by Spring Break, but it is the path to be able to be quick thinking all year long.