Our bodies are machines, and our food is required to fuel specific actions to help us function properly. Our brain works at its best with healthy food. Sugar increases anxiety and depression. Better foods contain enzymes that increase “feel good” serotonin production. Investing in a healthy gut, full of probiotics has been linked to happiness. Nutritional psychology actually exists, and researches are making strides in discovering the types of foods that will make us feel the best. The safest way to get the nutrients we need for mental health is via what we eat, so unless instructed by your doctor, opt for these mood boosting foods instead.
Oatmeal, when not over sweetened, can be a steady source of carbohydrates for the brain—carbs (converted to glucose for energy) are absolutely necessary for brain function. Whole grain organic oats are a complex carb that breaks down slowly, offering steady release of glucose rather than inducing blood sugar spikes, which are rough on the mood. For example, a piece of white sandwich bread is a simple carb that would cause sugar to spike harshly. But nutrient rich organic oats are full of minerals, fiber and vitamins.
Eggs contain choline, which is as important for brain tissue health as folate. By eating eggs, you are helping your cognitive processes and preserving that precious noggin. The tasty breakfast staple also houses B vitamins, which can fight depression and other mental disorders. Boil, scramble, poach, serve them sunny side up—eggs are easy to make, affordable, and are just really good!
Chicken is part of a Mediterranean diet, an eating plan that has been strongly tied with a healthy mind and body. Lean meat like chicken and turkey, along with fish, veggies, plant fats, and legumes comprise the holy grail of all diets. Choline is the super component in chicken that preserves healthy brain tissue, but you’ll also find vitamins B12 and B6—both extremely essential for an optimal brain.
The gut has direct communication with the brain, which is literally mind blowing. Just as much as thought can churn the stomach, what you put in the stomach can alter the brain. Preserving a healthy microbiome (colonies of good bacteria in the intestines) is essential for a happy belly, and therefore a happier mind. Yogurt (especially organic grass fed), kimchi, keifer and sauerkraut are fermented choices with lots of probiotics.
Fish such as salmon and herring contain omega 3s, fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) which are important to the brain, and are largely found in fish oil. These fatty acids are anti inflammatory superheroes, and can improve total brain cell function and communication. This preserves memory and can enhance learning capabilities. But in addition, it’s suspected that these essential components allow serotonin receptors in the brain work more efficiently, and this is the stuff that boosts our mood and fights depression. The best part is, there are really cheap food sources for EPA and DHA, like sardines and anchovies.
Seaweed also houses omega 3s, so sushi and ramen lovers can feel even more excited when indulging. Nori, kelp, wakame—different types exist, and all are broken down easily, for great nutrient absorption. Seaweed can contain vitamins C, B, E and A, all of which are good for brain health. Low in carbs, it’s good for weight loss and nourishment at the same time. Iron, also vital for a healthy mood, is found in the ocean veggie.
Walnuts contain selenium, a mineral antioxidant, that helps preserve cell membranes and prevents damaging oxidative stress within our systems. Brazil nuts are a solid source as well, and you’ll want to keep your sources of selenium as food. Too much of it can be toxic, so consuming nuts is a safe way to ingest smaller amounts. We need mere micrograms, not milligrams, which poses significant differences. Because of its protective importance, getting proper doses may ward off depressed mood.
While not technically a food, water is a key component for mental health. Dehydration can make a person feel like crap, mentally and physically, which can have long lasting effects on overall mental health. Aim for at least eight glasses a day, but if you’ve consumed caffeine or alcohol, you have to replace the liquids lost as a result of consuming those beverages. Diabetes, being out in the heat and exercise can increase the amount of water you may need.
Orange juice contains added vitamin D, and a lack of this component can cause depression. However the very best way to absorb Vitamin D is through the sun. This is why some people experience seasonal depression during the summer—they aren’t getting enough rays. Daily, take a short walk and absorb that warm sunshine. But definitely don’t slather on the tanning oil and bake for hours—that presents a whole other set of problems.
Beta carotene is an antioxidant. Antioxidants fight free radicals that can damage cells within our entire body, including the brain. Carrots can be tossed into a ton of meals and dishes—roast them and serve with brain enhancing chicken, make some chicken noodle soup, or just eat them raw with hummus. Other foods that contain beta carotene include apricots, peaches and pumpkin. (Remember, pumpkin spice isn’t pumpkin!)
When the body lacks B vitamins and folate, depression can become more likely. Leafy greens like spinach can fill the void. Sauté it and serve with salmon, blend it into a smoothie, create a fresh salad with strawberries, and nuts. The neutral tasting leafy veggie is something that can be snuck into recipes, or enjoyed solo.