8 "Brain-Boosting" Holiday Superfoods

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Holiday foods often get a bad rap, but according to Dr. William Li, author of Eat to Beat Disease, many of the ingredients traditionally used this time of year actually contain brain-boosting benefits. Check out what he has to say about his top eight holiday superfoods below. 

Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself

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1.) Chestnuts: Chestnuts contain ellagic acid, which research indicates may help protect the brain from inflammation and support memory. And you don't have to roast them (ha); you can buy them jarred. 

2.) Cranberries: Cranberries are an immune-system builder, and we all want to build up our immune system this time of year. You get the benefits from both dried and fresh cranberries. He likes making a chutney with chopped raw cranberries, minced ginger and orange zest.  

3.) Cocoa Powder: Most people feel happier when they are eating chocolate, but studies have shown that cocoa powder (in hot chocolate, for instance) could help improve depression and lower anxiety. Pro tip: Since dark cocoa (and dark chocolate) generally have more health benefits, consider using that for your hot chocolate. And if you can't find dark cocoa powder, simply shave some dark chocolate and melt it in the hot milk. Dr. Li's favorite winter trick is to spike the drink with some peppermint oil. 

4.) Nutmeg: Nutmeg contains a natural compound called myristicin, which may help stimulate brain function. It can be found in other spices as well, but nutmeg has the most. 

5.) Porcini Mushrooms: Porcini mushrooms contain a lot of beta glucan in their stems, which can help reduce anxiety. Humans can't produce beta glucan, so mushrooms can play an important role in supporting daily health and wellness. 

TRY THIS: Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms and Artichokes From Dr. William Li

6.) Pumpkin: Pumpkin flesh has a lot of fiber, which is good for the gut microbiome so it can help support brain health thanks to the gut-brain connection. You can cut whole sugar pumpkins and roast them, and they are delicious, but canned pumpkin also gives you the benefits and works great for muffins, breads and soups. Just make sure you are using real pumpkin and NOT pumpkin pie filling.  

7.) Spinach or Chard: These greens contain nitrogen from the soil, which the body transforms into nitrous oxide when you eat it. That can help improve blood flow, including blood flow to the brain, which is important for cognition.  

8.) Walnuts: Walnuts have healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can be good for gut health (that gut-brain connection at work again!). 

Rach was really excited when Dr. Li told her that many of the recipes in her book, This Must Be the Place, are packed with foods that could help improve brain function. Click here to watch him make her Porcini and Greens Risotto, which uses four of the superfoods above. "I love this meal because it is also plant based, which is great because it gives you a vegetarian option for non-meat eaters or just a break from heavy holiday meat meals," he says. "Plus, it can serve a bunch of people, so it is great for holidays and works as leftovers the next day." 

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