The Drs. Sherzai’s Better-Brain Gift Guide

This is not a medical term, but we think you’ll know what we mean: a lot of the gifts exchanged during the holiday season turn your brain to mush.

So, we’ve come up with 32 gift ideas that are all brain- and health-friendly, and, to make your Christmas shopping quick and easy, we’ve even organized them by our usual NEURO quintet:

Within these categories, items are roughly sorted from least expensive to most expensive — except where items intuitively belong next to each other.

Full disclosure: 100% of the commissions we earn from this gift guide will be donated to the Healthy Minds Initiative, a non-profit organization working with communities around the world to lead positive brain health transformations. Most of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning that we receive a commission from anything you buy, at no extra cost to you. It’s exactly the same experience for you — same products, same prices, same processing — but it means we can generate a little extra cash for a good cause! Healthy Minds Initiative will use the funds to improve brain health communication and resources online and within the communities they work with closely.

Nutrition

Microplane Zester

This is the tool you want for zesting citrus fruits like lemons. Why? Because the blades/teeth are designed to take the rind (which you do want) and leave the bitter white pith (which you don’t want). You can also grate cheese with it; a proper grater is better for volume, but this is perfect for freshly grating cheese into specific spots.

KitchenAid Citrus Press

There’s a noticeable difference to fresh-squeezed citrus, but we gotta say: it’s hard work to do it with your bare hands! Citrus fruits don’t want to give up all of the juice they contain, so it’s super helpful to have a purpose-built tool like this (and with all due respect to Alton Brown and his dislike of single-purpose kitchen gadgets, we get a TON of mileage out of this one).

OXO Smart-Seal Glass Storage Container

Sure, it’s fancy Tupperware — but Tupperware is a thing people need in their kitchens, and we wouldn’t call the features ‘fancy’ so much as ‘extra-useful’ in this case.

Namely: this glass can go all the way from the freezer to the oven or microwave, back and forth as many times as necessary. It’s surprisingly helpful to have as much overlap as possible between cookware and storage containers, because it’s a pain and a waste to have separate containers for each, and this solves that problem.

‘No Kid Hungry’ Spatula

This is a collaboration between Williams-Sonoma and the charity No Kid Hungry, and the idea is pretty simple: each participating celebrity gets to design their own visual twist on the same silicone spatula and, no matter which one you pick, 30% of the retail price goes straight to No Kid Hungry. You can (in a small way) fight other people’s hunger while also fighting your own!

Stainless Steel Oil Sprayer

This is one of the kitchen tools that we get the most questions about during and after our NEURO Academy cooking sessions. It’s like any other spray bottle, except that (unlike any old spray bottle) you can put cooking oil like EVOO in it — and the idea here is that spraying it allows you to distribute the oil evenly and get everything in contact without having to use nearly as much oil as you would by pouring it in.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet

Cast iron is about as low-tech as cookware gets, but it still occupies a uniquely useful spot in the kitchen — and this Lodge model is so popular because it has the essential design down pat, and it comes pre-seasoned, so you can get cooking right away. Ideal for everything, from pan-roasted chickpeas and deliciously brain-healthy tofu to vegetable stir-fries and breakfast potato hashes.

GreenPan Ceramic Nonstick Frying Pan

This is another one of the kitchen tools that we get a lot of questions about, and people are always surprised that it doesn’t cost more, but… it doesn’t! This ceramic cookware is great for everyday use; it’s light, the non-stick finish is very durable, and it heats quickly and evenly relative to many other types of frying pan.

Mandoline Slicer and Spiralizer

Just to be clear, a mandoline slicer is not an “accident-proof” device — many people seem to think so! Having said that, it definitely makes certain cutting tasks faster and more precise, and — in the case of a set like this — it makes certain kinds of cuts possible, like being able to spiralize veggies. This set includes two straight mandoline blades, two spiralizer blades, a grater blade, and a julienne blade, plus some other accessories. 

Wüsthof Knife Sharpener

Whether or not you get anyone knives (see below) as gifts, it is also true that your giftees will need to keep their knives sharp — not just for performance, but also for safety! We have two knife-sharpening gift options on this list and this is the easier of the two. Essentially, you just hold the sharpener firmly in place and then draw the blade carefully through the narrow slots. Easy peasy!

Combination Whetstone with Plastic Base

A whetstone is the more ‘serious’ method of sharpening knives; it’s not as mindless as the option above, but it’s more precise and you can get knives frightfully sharp this way. One side of this whetstone is for sharpening, the other for polishing, and there’s a base to keep it in place while you work. This is one of those ‘immortal’ kitchen tools in the sense that people have been using it to great effect for a very long time, and you could probably use one of these for decades before having to replace it.

Virginia Boys Walnut Cutting Board(s)

Cutting boards can be one of the most enjoyable items in the kitchen. There’s just something special about a well-made cutting board — how it looks, and how it feels beneath your hands and beneath the blade. 

We love this brand; they make their cutting boards from walnut, which is both gorgeous and a good functional choice (because it’s a hard wood). If you want to shop local, you can often find high-quality cutting boards at butcher shops, high-end grocers, and local gift shops. 

8-Inch Kasumi Chef’s Knife

The chef’s knife is the workhorse knife, the one every cook needs, and this is a wonderful chef’s knife. The technically-asymmetrical handle fits very comfortably in the hand, more so than most other chef’s knives we’ve ever tried. The blade is made in Japan from high-carbon stainless steel which, aside from being razor-sharp, is gorgeous in the same manner as Damascus steel (the real-world basis for Game of Thrones’ Valyrian steel).

6.5-Inch Deba Knife

This is another one of our favorite kitchen knives, made from a different variety of high-quality Japanese steel. The blade is a little shorter and stouter in shape, but also lighter; it cuts anything like it’s butter and it holds an edge very well. In general, Tojiro knives are a great value… they cut as well as knives several times their price.

Lettuce Grow Farmstand

What if we told you that you (or your gift recipient) could grow wheelbarrows worth of food, in a closet or other corner of your home, all with virtually no effort? If their eyes would light up at this idea, this is the gift for them — and it’s a 21st-century way of growing food if we’ve ever seen one. Hydroponics is an amazing idea, and this is one of the smartest and most impressive iterations we’ve yet seen upon that idea.

AeroGarden Harvest 360 Indoor Garden

In concept, this is the same idea as above — a self-regulating hydroponic system for growing plants and other produce indoors — and amazing in many of the same ways. However, this one is made by a different company (they’re based out of Colorado); it’s also a much smaller and proportionately less expensive device that would probably serve as a better ‘entrance’ to indoor agriculture.

Exercise

HYDRO CELL Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle

You can’t go wrong with these water bottles. They come in a wide variety of colors and sizes, they’re triple-insulated to keep liquids cold OR hot, and they’re made from 100% food-grade, rust-proof stainless steel. Not least of all, they’re priced reasonably and a portion of the profits goes to food and water projects in developing countries, per the company’s mission.

Sleeved Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are great because they allow people to exercise all different parts of their bodies, no matter their initial strength level and no matter how little space they may have to spare. We like this set for the clearly-labeled bands, the range of resistances in the set, and the modularity of the design (you can attach the bands to handles OR ankle straps OR door anchors, which are all included).

DeskCycle Bike Pedal Exerciser

Friends don’t let friends skip leg day, especially when it plays such an outsized role in promoting neural growth. So if your giftee could (so to speak) stand to burn a little extra kinetic energy while working their desk job, this is the gift for them! It’s essentially a stationary bike, minus everything except the pedals.

Unwinding

New York Times Crossword-Puzzle Collections

All of these crosswords were edited by Will Shortz (the Times’ long-running puzzle master), and you can choose from separate volumes of easy, medium, or hard crosswords. The essential difference between difficulties is the total size of the puzzle grid (which determines the number of clues and their maximum length); easy puzzles are 7×7, medium are 12×12, and hard are 21×21.

Ban.do ‘Feeling Feelings’ Card Deck

This deck of 50 well-designed cards is ‘a toolbox for your feelings’ split into five equal sections: joy, fear, sadness, anger, and wild card. These cards can be remarkably helpful — in conversation, in therapy, or just in personal reflection — for keeping you in touch with those feelings and helping you to be gentle with yourself and others.

Subscription to Calm or Headspace

On the topic of ‘gifts that help people to be gentler on themselves’, we have Calm and Headspace — two of the world’s most popular apps for mindfulness and relaxation, and rightly so. Heck, you might want a membership for yourself!

Subscription to Duolingo or Rosetta Stone

As we’ve mentioned before, learning languages is one of the world’s single best ways of keeping your brain sharp, not to mention understanding other people in other places while you’re traveling. Get one of these for your favorite (would-be) polyglot and they’ll be able to choose from dozens of different options and learn at their own pace, anytime and anywhere!

Restorative Sleep

Anatomical Plush Pillows

Maybe this is just us being nerdy neuroscientists, but… just look at these things! Aren’t they precious and fun? If your giftee is the kind of person who would be continually amused by a happy body-organ-shaped pillow, you already know it and we’ve found three options from this brand: a brain, a pituitary gland, and an adrenal gland.

PS: Please don’t actually sleep on these. As much as we love the mental image of resting your head on a brain-shaped pillow, it’s no replacement for a good-quality pillow that’ll actually help you sleep well!

Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets help us to relax more fully, sleep more deeply, and get more of those warm cozy feelings from our rest. As a rule of thumb, weighted blankets should be roughly 10% of your body weight — light enough to still be manageable, heavy enough to feel markedly different.

There’s a whole world of shopping options for weighted blankets, but this is a great starting point for anyone who’d want to try it out before making serious purchases.

Felix Gray Blue-Light Glasses

Our various screens produce a lot of light from the blue part of the visible spectrum — the same part that does the most to signal our brains to wake up and stay alert. By wearing blue-light-blocking glasses, you can help yourself wind down at night and improve your quality of sleep; many people also find that they reduce eye strain and headaches.

You can get blue-light-blocking glasses for dirt cheap, but you do get what you pay for. Frames by Felix Gray are comfortable and stylish — the kind of glasses you might actually want to wear for their intended purpose, every day.

Fitbit Inspire 3

You could go the Apple Watch route for all the same features and more, but you’d be spending at least three times as much (and that’s a big waste if the person doesn’t want an Apple Watch).

Short of that, there is the Fitbit Inspire 3. It does look like an Apple Watch in a thinner form factor and, aside from being a watch, it also tracks your physical activity, sleep, and heart rate; you can monitor this data and review your Daily Readiness Score on the app. (We include this idea here because it’s one of the smartest and most accessible ways we know to help people monitor their sleep.)

Donation to a Favorite Cause

You can’t help everyone everywhere all the time, but you can help someone somewhere sometimes — and this is the season when giving back means arguably the most to them. You can donate to whichever causes and charities mean the most to you (or to your gift ‘recipient’, if giving a donation in their name).

If you need suggestions, we would reiterate the Healthy Minds Initiative and No Kid Hungry, and we’d also mention your local Humane Society. Dogs (and cats) are the best kinds of people.

Optimization

The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai

We wrote The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution to be the first action-oriented cookbook for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and delivering results like improved mental agility, short- and long-term memory, sharpness, and attention. Our goal with this book is to give people everything they need to happily eat for better brain health — like context, guidelines, and 75+ delicious recipes — all in 30 pain-free days.

The Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer by Dan Buettner

Dan is one of our close friends in the wellness space, and he would summarize this book as three things in one: (1) an introduction to the ‘blue zones’, places where people live to 100 at rates far exceeding the rest of the world, (2) a how-to guide for adding 10 years to your life, and (3) a companion to his new-ish Netflix documentary series. If the subject matter and writing don’t draw you in, David McLain’s gorgeous photographs certainly will (and they appear on almost every page in the book)!

Rubik’s Cube Trio Bundle

Rubik’s cubes are some of the most elegant puzzles in the world. There’s a whole world of Rubik’s cubes (and similar puzzles) out there, but this is a great starting point because, in addition to the classic 3×3×3 cube, this set also includes an easier 2×2×2 cube and a harder 4×4×4 cube so you can step the challenge up or down.

Folding Magnetic Wooden Chess Set

Chess is, in multiple senses, a game for kings and queens. It’s arguably the purest strategy game ever conceived and, in ways that are difficult to explain (especially in so little space), it’s one of the best games you can play to keep your mind sharp at any age. There’s an endless variety of chess sets out there, but this one seems like a great compromise between looks, function, and economy.

NEURO Academy Membership

Last but certainly not least, we have membership to our very own NEURO Academy! No matter your giftee’s favorite sort of starting point — be it the classroom, the kitchen, or the water cooler — we’ve got everything they need to maintain the best possible version of their brain at any age (and there’s always more being added).

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