Nutrition for Brain Injury Recovery
I’m going to start this off by saying I LOVE FOOD. I always have and I always will.
The types of food that I love have changed over the years. I think everyone’s taste buds develop and change with age. But I’ve always enjoyed eating healthy, wholesome food. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve also always enjoyed eating cookies, chocolate, ice cream and anything else that contains sugar! If you don’t like chocolate then I don’t trust you! I love all meals and go to sleep most nights looking forward to my breakfast! I look forward to all of my meals throughout the day and I love trying new foods and new restaurants. I think it’s fair enough to say I’m a bit of a foodie.
Post TBI Nutrition
After my brain injury I really struggled with food. I never felt hungry. I never really felt anything other than pain, nausea, fatigue and my rollercoaster of emotions! And because I wouldn’t feel hungry, I would forget to eat my meals and fuel my body properly! Which lead to my symptoms getting worse. Then, when I did remember to eat, I would often prioritise sleeping, as I was so exhausted!
I also found that when I did find the energy to make a meal that I would struggle so much with deciding what to make, remembering to buy ingredients and concentrating on how to make the food. Then, if I managed to get all of the above right, I would often forget the food was cooking and burn it! Or, I would be so worn out from cooking that I would feel nauseous and not want to eat.
However, after using my headache diary to track the pain in my head, I realised that food was extremely important for helping my brain to recover. I discovered that preparing and cooking meals every day made the pain in my brain worse. But I also discovered that my brain would feel better after I had consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. So I needed to eat – that was obvious! Now, I just needed to figure out how to make eating easier!
Food Prep for Brain Injuries
I started to cook food in big batches, or ‘food prep’ as some people call it. I would set aside time for about an hour every few days to cook lots of simple foods.
Lunch & Dinner
- I would season some chicken fillets or salmon darns and pop them in the oven. Then they were ready to add to a salad for a quick, healthy and nutritious meal. (I can’t count how many times I forgot to take these out of the oven though, so be sure to set a timer to remind yourself!)
- My ‘one-pot-wonders’ became a regular occurrence. Quite simply, I added loads of chicken and veg to an ovenproof dish, added some seasoning and just let it cook slowly. Then split it into 4 or 5 portions – dinner for the week sorted!
- I would bake kale in the oven for about 10 minutes and add it to any of the above. It’s so easy and tasty and one of the best brain foods you can get!
- Microwavable rice was a Godsend. Just put a packet in the microwave for 2/3 minutes and you have some lovely hot carbs to add to your protein and salad/veggies.
- I would prepare some juice/smoothie bags and put them in the freezer. This was just dividing the ingredients into portions and putting them into freezer bags. Then, when I got up in the morning I could just grab a bag and add it to my blender. 2 minutes later, I was drinking a healthy green juice or refreshing and delicious smoothie.
- I would make overnight oats so that it was ready to go first thing in the morning. Just mix oats, yoghurt/milk, protein powder and fruit together in a lunch box and leave them in the fridge overnight. I absolutely love porridge, so I could also have this for lunch, dinner or a healthy snack too.
- I would boil 6 eggs at once so that I had a supply of cooked eggs that I could have for breakfast or as a healthy and quick snack.
I bought foods that required no cooking/preparation
- Rice cakes – I would usually add peanut butter and banana (delicious!)
- Bags of carrot batons
- Tins of tuna
Greens for Brain Health
As you can see I always ensured I was getting healthy, nutritious foods in! Green veg like kale, broccoli and spinach are extremely good for your brain! As are oily foods such as avocado, tuna and salmon! They are full of omega 3, which is great for brain function, so I would always try to eat at least one of these foods every day.
I also, most importantly, discovered healthy ways of eating sweet treats. Most of which, involved bananas and peanut butter in one-way or another! I would add a mix of peanut butter, banana, berries and some dark chocolate to a bowl of Greek yoghurt. People say dark chocolate is healthier but to be quite honest the only reason I use dark chocolate is because if I went with milk chocolate I wouldn’t be able to stop eating the bar until it was gone! Where as dark chocolate I could crack off a square and break it up into the bowl.
I also baked some healthy snacks once a week. I found baking relaxing and a good way to calm me down if I was getting worked up or stressed.
I would bake foods like banana bread, banana & blueberry muffins with some dark choc chips, banana & raspberry muffins with some white choc chips, banana & oat cookies, energy balls and various other concoctions that I would throw together! They were all very easy recipes that involved very few ingredients and very few steps in the method – more or less all of them consisted of just mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl! And none required loud mixers!
This doesn’t mean that I don’t eat other sugary foods though! I still eat chocolate and donuts and ice cream. But they are a treat! Sometimes they’re exactly what I need to help pick me up when I’m having a bad day so I don’t restrict myself. But I do find that when I’ve eaten too much processed sugar it has a negative affect on my recovery. So I try to stick to healthy treats where I can!
Supplements for Brain Health
There are so many supplements that are recommended for brain health, but I have found that the best ones for me are:
- Eskimo BRAIN 3.6.9 Omega Oils
- My Protein Vitamin B Complex
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV) – I mix a shot of ACV with some warm water and honey to start the day off!
And most importantly I would always ensure I was well hydrated. I drink at least 2-3 litres of water a day. I also cut out caffeine – drinking only decaffeinated tea, or caffeine free herbal tea such as peppermint or camomile.
Healthy Food for Brain Recovery
There are so many benefits to having a healthy diet and fuelling your brain well, especially when recovering from a brain injury. Your body and hormones are all off balance so eating the right foods is crucial. I did a lot of research around what’s good and what’s not good for brain recovery. In reality, we’re no different to anybody else – good nutrition is good nutrition regardless of your mental and physical health. This is a useful article on what’s good and what’s not for brain recovery too!
However, I did find that there are a lot of foods that have benefits for your brain. So they’re the foods I incorporated into my meals above. In my opinion the most important 5 of these would be:
- Kale – any greens really but especially kale & spinach!
- Oily fish – get your omega 3’s in from yummy salmon or tuna!
- Avocado – super diverse and super healthy! You can have them in a salad, as a replacement for butter or in a juice/smoothie!
- Nuts – any and all nuts and nut butters are beneficial! Again, they are super diverse and full of healthy fats and omegas – especially walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts! Check out this article for more info on nuts for brain health!
- Blueberries – yummy, tasty and can be added to juices or eaten raw as a snack!
In reality, I don’t think there is any food that is bad for your brain recovery if eaten in moderation – other than caffeine! But a bad diet isn’t going to help speed things up! And personally, I find I have more energy when I’m not eating too much processed sugars. If you’re interested in getting more tips on nutritious meals and healthy foods for brain recovery check out my Instagram page for some delicious recipes and food tips!