Drew Ramsey M.D.

The Farmacy

Holiday Brainfood Swaps

Keep your Ho Ho Ho free of Boo Hoo Hoo

Posted Dec 21, 2011


‘Tis the season to be jolly, but with a parade of boozy holiday parties, family get-togethers, and shopping list anxiety in an era of austerity, moods tend to tank. But never fear as a trip to the Farmacy can help ensure you still have a merry little Christmas. To help keep your Ho Ho Ho free of Boo Hoo Hoo here are my top Holiday Farmacy Food Swaps.


Dark Chocolate Orange Slices (or ginger, lemon and orange rind) instead of Candy Canes: 

The power of cacoa, the fruit used to make chocolate, to boost energy, mood and concentration is increasingly backed by science. Along with a set of powerful antioxidants, dark chocolate can actually improve blood flow to the brain. Studies show it also improves focus, key for late night present wrapping sessions.  Dark chocolate is also packed with brain essential minerals iron, magnesium and zinc. The bitter citrus rind adds powerful antioxidants such as epicatechin and soothing, euphoria promoting molecules like hesperidin . However, if you must indulge in the occasional candy cane (I know I can’t make it through the holidays without a at least a few), find one that’s dipped in dark chocolate. Every little bit helps right?


Pasture Raised Pork Loin or Slow Pork instead of a Conventional Christmas Ham:


This fall I went on a ham quest. I wandered the aisles of grocery stores in the Midwest looking for some natural, tasty smoked pork. It was a long search. Conventional hams are injected with sugar and salt, even fillers to retain water. If you’ve got family members with celiac disease, gluten intolerance/sensitivity, you’ve probably noticed the “gluten free” signs in the grocery store. How’d the wheat protein up in your ham? MADness. Check out The Happiness Diet for a delicious Slow Pork recipe.

Wild Salmon instead of Farmed Filet Mignon:



My Dad is the most frugal brainfood shopper I know. Scouring the aisles for deals, he will bring home whole sides of frozen wild salmon any time they are marked down. Packed with the long-chained omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, this is a must for one of your holiday meals. These fats are essential for proper brain function and data shows they even preserve memory as you age. I regularly prescribe these fats in my clinical practice to improve mood. They’ll help keep you stable, cool, calm, and caroling. You also get a dose of B12, iodine, zinc, and complete protein to ensure your neurotransmitter factories will be humming.



Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Gratin instead of Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole:

The naturally sweet and healthy sweet potato is one of nature’s top sources of beta-carotene, which is linked to improved brain health as you age. I love to grill these. Or make a simple gratin slicing them thinly, layering with some local grassfed cheese and then baking covered for 45 minutes at 375. If you must sweeten a little, use some molasses and you’re adding iron, vitamin B6, and calcium too.


Vegetable Frittata served with Flaxseed toast and Fruit Salad instead of Hot Cross Buns:


Maybe you can’t touch your family’s big sticky white frosted Hot Cross Bun tradition, but cutting out sugar and refined carbs is key to a better, more regulated mood and a healthier brain. You can’t go wrong with any farm fresh egg and vegetable combination. Make your toast flaxseed you’ll get some ALA omega-3s fats that protect the brain. A simple fuit salad means ample vitamin C, inflammation-fighting phytonutrients, and fiber


BrainFood Nut Mix instead of Peanuts:

Instead of a pre-salted stale bowl of peanuts, supercharge your holiday nut mix. I suggest you make a mix of walnuts (a plethora of the omega-3 fat ALA), almonds (loaded with vitamin E that protects your brain fat), and a few Brazil nuts (packed selenium deficiencies of which are linked to depression). We take an extra step in our house and roast these in the toaster oven at 300 degrees for 15 minutes after mixing with rosemary and a little sea salt. Compounds in rosemary are being studied for their brain-protecting abilities and simply the smell puts a smile on my face.


Hopped Up, Beasty Local Beer instead of Sugary Mixed Drinks:

Nobody likes to hear it, but limiting the booze is key to surviving the holidays. One easy swap is serving a great local hoppy beer. You’ll get a little built in regulation on your alcohol intake compared with a sugary vodka drink. The bitter flavors in hoppy beers like IPAs come from a cancer and inflammation fighting phytonutrient called xanthohumol. Find something bottle conditioned with some yeast beasts in the bottom of the bottle and swig them down to get all the B vitamins you need for a better brain (except B12).


Have a wonderful, safe, and Happy Holiday Season, A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Looking forward to helping you Eat to Build a Better Brain in 2012.