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Brain Healthy Pies for Pi Day March 14Happy Pi Day!

As a chef, I prefer to take the day to celebrate all things with crust and filling versus the mathematical aspects of March 14th, and while pondering which of my favorite sweet and flaky treats to write about, I found myself immediately searching my brain for the most healthful and probably least flavorful pies I have ever made and I had to put the brakes on (cue screeching tire sound effect).

That is not what dessert is all about, is it? Who wants to waste calories on something labeled as “healthy” that tastes like cardboard? The truth is, I could give you a list of ingredient substitutes that can make your favorite pies more healthful, but it will still have sugar in it, and it will not be as satisfying as that big hunk of chocolate creme pie you’ve been dreaming of. This is a lesson we’ve learned while working with the residents of our assisted living communities. When they want ice cream, nothing but ice cream will do, and don’t try to substitute frozen yogurt or give them a smaller scoop.

My chefs and I talk about desserts often and it came up in one of our recent discussions with Kelly Toups, a Registered Dietician with Oldways, creators of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. It’s a hot topic for us, since we we serve a population that wholly enjoys their after dinner sweets and yet we are doing our best to provide them with menu options that promote brain health. The conclusion we have come to is a piece of advice that I believe will benefit anyone of every age – It’s not the ingredients you take away, it’s what you decide to include.

Here’s what I mean. Don’t try to substitute stevia for every cup of sugar in that cake recipe if it is going to sacrifice flavor. Instead, have your cake, but add something to it that will make the dish more nutritionally valuable. Consider additions to your batter like dark berries full of antioxidants, omega-three rich nuts, and shredded fruits and veggies. Or try some of these brain-healthy pie enhancers:

  • Drizzle on the dark chocolate – it boosts memory and attention span by increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Garnish with fresh herbs – like mint, basil or rosemary which all have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.
  • Add some fruit – fresh is best, but dried can be delicious as well – vitamin and mineral rich cherries, apricots or even simple raisins. The darker the fruit, the more brain healthy.
  • Melt some peanut butter – Look for a brand with no added sugars —you really want just roasted peanuts. And, don’t use too much as there are a lot of calories in a small serving size, but peanut butter also contains a good amount of vitamin E, magnesium and potassium as well.
  • Chop some nuts – a staple of the brain boosting Mediterranean Diet that our Brain Healthy Cooking program is based on. We recommend DHA-rich walnuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds.

If you love these ideas you may also be interested in our previous post on Mediterranean desserts. Depriving ourselves of the occasional treat will not result in a successful diet or a happy camper. But treating our treats as exactly what they are, a treat, will allow us to enjoy it more. So go ahead and have your pie – and tell us about it!

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