It’s all too easy to neglect nutritional needs when on the road, grabbing the easiest and probably least healthy thing in the cupboard. Pot Noodle, anyone?
After all, who wants to waste time prepping meals when there’s adventure to be had?! The good news is that there are loads of superfoods – or what we like to call brain boosting foods – that you can eat pretty much on the go.
The thing is, if you’re on a long road trip holiday or live full-time in your van these foods, drinks, and vitamins can help boost your health and wellbeing by raising your energy levels, lifting your mood and strengthening your resistance to many diseases.
Listed here are some of the brain boosting foods and drinks we always keep stocked up in our van. We’ve put them in a ‘Top Ten’ list so you can go straight to the one(s) you’re most interested in.
And there’s a notes section at the end with some of the research findings.
Our day doesn’t properly start until we’ve had our bowl of porridge! We like to add a handful of fruit and nut muesli, blueberries, chopped apple, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, all topped off with a dollop of plain yogurt.
Sometimes we’ll keep it simple and use the little porridge pots you can buy from the supermarket, where all you have to do is add hot water. We’ll still add some of our other ingredients though!
Porridge is a great source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, and is also gluten free. Even better! And the research is showing that porridge lowers blood sugar levels and cholesterol, as well as helping you lose weight (1).
It wasn’t so long ago that caffeine was a naughty word, to be avoided at all costs. De-caffeinated drinks became all the rage. But we now know differently. Even though too much of it can be addictive, science is now telling us that drinking caffeinated drinks in moderation (up to 4 cups a day) has enormous health benefits.
It can help keep you alert on a long drive, improve your concentration, and boost your mood. Long-term, there is evidence that suggests that coffee, in particular, can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (2).
As well as coffee, we always carry the usual good old English breakfast tea (Hobo Trudi’s favourite), Green tea, Russian caravan tea, and Yerba Mate, all containing caffeine.
(We don’t drink caffeine in so-called ‘energy drinks’ like Red Bull or Coca Cola though, the latter actually better used for cleaning the waste water tank on the van! We’ve done it twice now and it gets rid of those nasty smells.)
Well known as a super food, adding blueberries to our porridge is something we do every morning, as mentioned above. They contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, helping ward off neuro-degenerative conditions (3).
There’s also evidence that suggests blueberries may help improve memory.
Can you remember the days when we were told chocolate was bad for us? It wasn’t so long ago. Thankfully research is now proving the exact opposite, especially when it comes to the darker variety.
There are plenty of studies coming through that shows dark chocolate boosts mood, memory, the performance of mental tasks and even provides a cardio tonic (4).
We love the 70% dark chocolate with raspberries from Lidl.
We always carry a good supply of these in the van, perfect for a snack on the go. We buy the ‘mixed nuts’ packs, sometimes also with seeds and dried fruit in.
The research shows that eating nuts improves cognition and memory, wards of brain degeneration, and even keeps the heart healthy. The nutrients in nuts – healthy fats, Vitamin E, and antioxidants – could explain why they are so good for us.
And although all nuts are good for your brain, walnuts provide an extra boost because they contain Omega 3 along with all the other nutrients (5).
Another thing we’ll eat on the road is oranges. Navigator Trudi will often pass driver Gav a handful of segments as we trundle along the highways and byways on our UK road trips. And we didn’t really know how good these were until we did the research!
We all know oranges are rich in vitamin C but we didn’t know that just one medium-sized orange is enough to meet your daily requirement.
Vitamin C is known to support brain health, boost the immune system and prevents mental decline as you age (6).
Omega 3 fish oils
Fish such as salmon, trout, sardines and tuna are all rich in Omega 3 fatty acids that help to build brain and nerve cells. And we now know these fatty acids are essential for learning and memory and, like caffeine, there is evidence to suggest that Omega 3’s can stave off age-related conditions.
There is also evidence that shows Omega 3 can help with feelings of depression and stabilise mood swings (7). It really does seem that Omega 3 fish oils are one of the best brain boosting foods!
Fresh fish is best, but even the canned variety still has some of the goodness in it. And we take an Omega 3 vitamin supplement as well, just to keep our levels topped up.
Great to eat raw in a salad but even better for you lightly fried! Research has shown that eating high amounts of cooked tomatoes reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 28% (8). This is because lycopene – the special ingredient in red tomatoes – is freed up by cooking, increasing the amount you can absorb.
Tomato ketchup, puree, and paste (used on pizzas) are also great sources of lycopene. That’s great news for pizza lovers!
We didn’t know this until we read the best health book ever – The Health Delusion – How to Achieve Exceptional Health in the 21st Century. We’ve always been a bit sceptical about health books but this is backed by the latest scientific research and speaks in jargon-free language…
It was from the above book that we learned about the importance of vitamin D, which is now being recognised as a vital ingredient to our physical and mental wellbeing.
We’re all aware that vitamin D is absorbed by the skin from sunshine and that lack of it can lead to rickets, something we don’t hear so much about these days. But lack of this vitamin also increases our risks of virtually every modern-day health problem, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Although this isn’t a food, as such, we felt we had to include it in our Top Ten. You could call it a ‘super supplement’ and even though 20 minutes per day in the summer sun is enough to keep your Vitamin D levels topped up, wintertime can leave you with a deficiency. That’s why we take a 1000 IU dose per day from October to March.
This is the family of vegetables that includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, rocket, Brussels sprouts, radishes, kale, turnips, and watercress, among others. We always take at least some of these on our travels.
They all contain special ingredients by the name of ‘glocosinolates’ which are fantastic for the prevention of certain cancers.
Just be aware that overcooking these veggies inactivates the good stuff, so they’re best eaten raw or lightly steamed. Read more about cruciferous vegetables.
What superfoods would you add?
We hope we don’t come across as health freaks! But the fact is we’re not getting any younger.
There comes a time in life when health becomes an important issue and us Hobos aim to do all we can to stay fit and well. A diet rich in these superfoods are one way of achieving that, as is spending time in nature and practising meditation.
We want to enjoy our van life adventures for years to come, as we’re sure you do too!
But what brain boosting foods would you have added to our top ten? Let us know!
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Notes: what the science is saying
(1) Have a look at the research into oat-bran products for people with type 2 diabetes https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16054549/
(2) The effects of coffee and caffeine on brain health and disease https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26677204/
(3) Effects of berry fruits on neuro-degenerative diseases https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192974/
(4) Chocolate and cognitive function https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26873453/
(5) Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/144/4/561S/4571638
(6) Vitamin C for the prevention of age-related cognitive decline https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3727637/
(7) Trials of anti-depressant efficacy of Omega 3 fatty acids https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17685742/
(8) for research into the effects of lycopene check out these findings https://www.wcrf.org/int/blog/articles/2020/04/cooked-tomatoes-can-reduce-risk-prostate-cancer