The phrase “you are what you eat” is usually issued as a warning, meant to dissuade eager eaters from downing fattening foods. But that’s the glass-half-empty approach. Customizing your diet can also help you achieve a variety of life-enhancing goals. To find out how, our friends at Refinery29 reached out to Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., faculty member at the New York Obesity Research Center at Columbia University and author of Why Diets Fail (out January 2014). Here, five ways to make dietary-based life improvements.
To Get Smarter...
Korean fermented, pickled cabbage is an acquired taste — you love it or you hate it. Luckily for those who are the former, it could be your brain’s BFF. “Kimchi contains lactobacillus sakei, a lactic acid bacteria, which may enhance cognitive function by increasing neuronal cell growth in the brain,” explains Avena.
To Chill Out...
Eat: Chia Seeds
Chia has been getting a ton of hype lately as a superfood. It fills you up and manages cravings, keeps you hydrated, and may help lower blood pressure. But, Avena says there’s an unsung benefit: Because chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), they can help keep cortisol and adrenaline levels in check, which can make you feel more relaxed, she says. But how does one incorporate these seeds into their daily meals, you ask? Try chia seed ‘pudding’, a natural version of the dessert. Mix about 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder with 1 ¼ cup coconut milk (from the can), ¼ cup chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of honey (or agave or maple syrup), and a few drops of vanilla extract. Then pour them into small bowls, chill in the fridge, enjoy, and be ready to bliss out.
Eat: Raw Carrots
“Carrots are rich in glucose, which is required by the brain to function,” explains Avena. But, that doesn’t mean you’ve got the green light to carb load when you want to ace it at work — simple carbs are converted to glucose (sugar) by the body. Instead, simply munch on some carrot sticks throughout the day, not in one sitting. “They will give your brain a steady dose,” says Avena. But, keep it at around five or so a day. Carrots have more sugar than any other vegetable, around 8 grams for a standard-sized carrot. That said, the naturally occurring sugar is obviously better for you than hitting up Doughnut Plant, but no need to intentionally overdo it.
To Get Stronger…
Eat: Green Tea
Green tea is another tried-and-true healthy diet staple. However, it is also praised for its antioxidant levels that can help keep your heart healthy and your skin glowing. You might want to drop the sugar-spiked Gatorade and use green tea as a go-to pre and post workout drink. “Green tea has catechins, particular antioxidants that may increase muscle’s endurance and fat burning,” says Avena.
To Feel Sexier…
While eating celery instead of, say, bon-bons is sure going to keep you looking hot, what’s possibly even more crucial is that it can give you better breath. And, better breath can make your cutie want to keep leaning in and you doing the same. “Celery makes you chew — a lot,” says Avena. “The more you have to chew, the more saliva your mouth creates, which acts as a natural bacteria fighter,” say Avena. They're not quite as portable and stealthy as slipping yourself a piece of gum, so crunch on some for a snack pre-date night.
Want to feel prettier, happier, or younger? Visit Refinery29 to find out which foods to eat.