Alton Brown’s #1 Best Recipe for a Sharper Brain
Chef and TV personality Alton Brown shares his genius secrets for healthy aging—including the only way he gets motivated to exercise.
At age 60, Alton Brown is as active as ever. The science-loving TV chef is the host of Netflix’s new series, Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend, and Alton Brown’s 30-city U.S. tour of his new “culinary-variety” live show will also kick off this November.
At this pace, it’s no wonder healthy aging is a top priority for Brown, who recently told The Healthy @Reader’s Digest that—perhaps unsurprisingly—he’s particularly invested in keeping his mind sharp. Because our readers are, too, here Brown shares his smartest habits for staying vibrant, plus what he eats at home to promote long-term brain health.
Alton Brown on cooking for brain health
“I really started thinking a lot about brain health in general when my 60th birthday was approaching,” Brown says. “For some reason I never thought I’d actually make it that far, but now that I have, I’ve got to figure out how to keep things going.”
That curiosity turned into extensive research about, well, brains. “I had cooked them,” Brown says, “but I hadn’t spent much time trying to support them.” So he read up on supplements, foods and everyday habits that are good for your noggin. “It’s becoming kind of a new hobby, trying to understand my brain and what I can do for it,” he says. “[My brain has] done a lot for me—and I have not been that good to it through the years, to be really honest, so I’m trying to make up for it.”
Brown has partnered with Neuriva and registered dietitian Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, to help educate the public about how to cook for brain health. “A lot of foods support each other in their benefits, so what I’ve tried to do is come up with recipes that get as many brain-friendly foods into one meal as possible.” Together they developed a power-packed recipe for a quinoa bowl with kale and salmon, because Brown says a meal that combines oily fish, leafy greens and whole grains has the potential to pack a ton of brain wellness into your meal. (Check out this brain-boosting Alton Brown recipe at the bottom of this page!)
Alton Brown on healthy aging
Brown reveals that at home, he and his wife often eat fish and grains. (“Sorry, I’m checking my dinner,” he interjects at one point, pausing the interview to peek into a pot of what he called “a funky brown rice fish”). In particular, he says they’re fans of high-quality canned fish, like sardines, which they love to enjoy with a glass of wine and some cheese.
As for those greens? Even this chef with a highly evolved palate gets that greens aren’t always a fave. “We always have a lot of greens in the house,” Brown says—but: “We make juices out of them, because sometimes it’s a lot easier for me to get half a gallon of celery juice down than to eat a head of celery.”
Based on recommendations from his doctor, he does use supplements, including Neuriva Plus, to support his brain health and to target the fact that his body struggles to hold onto B vitamins. “It’s really hard to overstress the importance of those B vitamins,” he says, and the research backs him up: a 2018 study in Nutrients suggested that not having enough B vitamins can lead to “higher levels of neural inflammation and oxidative stress.”
Alton Brown’s “recreational” workout philosophy
Courtesy Lynne Calamia
Brown takes a holistic approach to healthy aging, focusing not just on diet and supplements, but also on the importance of rest. He says the “quality of his output” increases with certain healthy habits, including getting at least seven hours of sleep and limiting screen time two hours before bed.
“I used to think of sleep like, ‘Oh my God, get up you lazy bum and get to work,’” he told The Healthy. “Now I’m kind of like, ‘No, my brain is actually writing. It’s doing things, it’s making memories. I need this sleep.’ So prioritizing sleep has become important and, of course, sleep balances with exercise. The more exercise you get, the better you sleep.”
Just like he makes the science of nutrition entertaining, Brown says his spirit toward exercise is similar: “I will not do anything that isn’t fun.” If he’s moving his body, it’s for what he and his wife call “recreational exercise.”
“I tell my wife, ‘I want to go take ballroom dancing,'” he says. “My daughter is a competition ballroom dancer. I’m like, ‘I want to do that.’ We paddleboard a great deal, which is something that my wife taught me how to do. And that’s a wonderful thing that we can also do together. And there’s a lot of bicycling and a lot of hiking.”
What it boils down to for Brown is that time—and pleasure—are precious. “I don’t believe in suffering. I just don’t. I don’t have any patience for it. I’m not going to suffer recipes or food that’s bad to taste just because it’s good for me, and I’m not going to do exercises that are not things that I don’t want to do.”
Alton Brown’s Kale & Quinoa Bowl with Salmon
Prep to Serve Time: 1.5 hours
What to Buy:
- 1 bunch lacinato or “dinosaur” kale, stems removed and cut into ribbons (about 4 ounces, stemmed)
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped (1.5 ounces)
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced (If you don’t get 2 tablespoons of juice, add enough water to get that amount.)
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
- 4 ounces firm feta cheese, divided
- 1 cup (3.5 ounces) walnuts, toasted and lightly crushed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups cooked white quinoa
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Two 1-inch thick, skin-on salmon filets (around 5 ounces each)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons light olive oil
What to Do:
- Toss kale, parsley and shallots together in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Puree the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, garlic, yogurt, 2 ounces of the feta, a third of the walnuts and the salt in a food processor.
- Pour the dressing over the greens, then fold in the quinoa, along with the rest of the walnuts, the cherries and the remaining feta.
- Cover and refrigerate at least an hour.
- Wrap the salmon filets completely in paper towels while you heat a large cast iron skillet (a heavy stainless steel pan will do in a pinch, but avoid non-stick for this), over medium high heat for 5 minutes.
- When the skillet is hot, season the filets with the salt. Add the oil to the skillet and carefully tilt to evenly cover the bottom. When the oil shimmers, slide the filets in, skin-side down, pressing each filet firmly down with a flexible spatula or fish turner to ensure contact.
- Reduce the pan heat to medium low and cook for 3 minutes, then cover the skillet and cook another 2 minutes.
- Carefully flip the filets, replace the cover and cook for another minute, or until done to your liking.
- To serve, slice each filet in half, place atop the kale & quinoa and enjoy.