Thanksgiving meal prep provides brain boost

A delicious Thanksgiving meal shared with family and friends does more than tantalize the taste buds – it can also be good for the brain.

According to Marwan Sabbagh, M.D., Director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the process of planning a meal exercises the brain; and the social aspects of gathering with loved ones is good for brain health too.

“People who are socially isolated are more likely to be depressed, more likely to have suicide, more likely to have cognitive decline,” he said. “But people who are socially engaged are more likely to have a social network, more likely to be happier in general, and it’s been shown very clearly they have better cognitive outcomes so, social stimulation is part of the meal.”

Research shows that social relationships benefit health overall, and that includes brain health.

A home-cooked meal shared with friends and family encourages social interaction and that’s important for preserving brain function, said Dr. Sabbagh.

The Thanksgiving dinner menu can contribute to brain health as well. Dr. Sabbagh recommends adding Mediterranean-style items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.

Butter can also be replaced with olive or canola oil; while herbs and spices can be used for flavor instead of salt.

In addition, many brain processes are involved in planning, shopping for and preparing a meal – these tasks test our ability to organize, prioritize and remain focused.

Planning a meal also involves problem solving, memory and multitasking.

Dr. Sabbagh said meal prep is a good test of cognitive skills and because of that it can also help uncover a memory issue.

“If your mother, grandmother, father, used to be perfect – they had the ingredients and they had the order and knew exactly how to prepare a meal – and now they’re struggling, don’t ignore it; don’t laugh it off; don’t say there’s nothing wrong – if you’re worried, go get it checked out,” said Dr. Sabbagh.