Photo credit @daria.shevstova
This weekend I reached out to Annie Fenn, MD, culinary instructor and founder of the Brain Health Kitchen Cooking School. Annie’s focus is how to cook and eat to fend off cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. I was interested to learn which cooking methods she considers brain-friendly and which ones she avoids.
Are some cooking methods more brain healthy than others?
Yes, absolutely! It’s important to start with brain healthy ingredients, but it is equally important to minimize the production of brain-harming substances when you cook. Many high heat cooking methods create advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. Packaged and processed foods are very high in AGEs because they are usually made with high heat methods. These AGEs promote oxidative stress and damage in blood vessels and the brain. In fact, AGEs tend to accumulate in the part of the brain where Alzheimer’s strikes first – the hippocampus. So I teach my students to avoid searing, frying, and grilling over direct high heat. Instead, I favor braising, slow-cooking, steaming, poaching, slow-roasting, gently sautéing, and grilling with indirect heat. When cooking eggs, I favor gently scrambling, poaching, or braising in a sauce (like in shakshuka) rather than frying or cooking over easy. Many of the brain healthy nutrients in the yolk (such as choline and lutein) can be damaged if exposed to high direct heat.
What does brain healthy grilling look like?
Slathering a protein with a sugary sauce (hello barbecued chicken!) is a recipe for AGE-ful food. Instead, grill low and slow with indirect heat and avoid creating grill marks on food. Avoid sugary sauces. Instead, serve grilled foods with herb-packed chutneys, veggie-packed sauces, and tapenades. (I love making roasted lemon salsa verde, green tahini sauce, and a fig and olive tapenade, for example.) Marinating meats and poultry in an acidic liquid (think citrus juice, yogurt, vinegar, mustard, wine) can slash AGE formation in half. The char left behind on grills is packed with AGEs, so be sure to keep your grill really clean. Using a grill basket can also help keep your food from getting too hot, charring, and racking up AGEs. Be sure to serve grilled foods with an abundance of leafy greens and veggies which can offset the absorption of AGEs.
Annie Fenn, MD
Annie Fenn is a board-certified physician, culinary instructor and trained chef. She practiced obstetrics and gynecology with a specialty in menopausal health for over 20 years in Jackson, Wyoming, where she lives.
Dr. Fenn switched gears in 2010 to practice medicine from a different angle—teaching her patients how to eat and cook with whole foods. After attending culinary school in Italy, Mexico and the Culinary Institute of America, she taught dozens of cooking classes in her community and wrote about food, health and sustainability for numerous media outlets. In 2017, she launched Brain Health Kitchen, the only cooking school of its kind to focus exclusively on preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.