Scientists are beginning to recognize the link between diet, levels of inflammation in the body, and mood.
It is a commonly held belief that your gut is in fact your “second brain.” In fact, more serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut than in the brain. Eating anti-inflammatory nutrients on a regular basis can help you lower your stress levels, feel calmer, and maintain energy from the inside out. Processed foods, on the other hand, do the exact opposite.
As the days get shorter, we are exposed to less sunlight, which causes depleted energy levels. Try incorporating fatigue-fighting and stress-busting foods into your diet before your energy and attention begin to flag.
Anti-inflammatory foods happen to be quite tasty, too. The nutritious foods listed below, while far from an exhaustive list, can benefit health year-round. They are not intended to be a substitute for medication or a cure for any ailment, although they are quite healing in and of themselves. Please check with your doctor to make sure none of these foods interact with your medications.
- Avocados are loaded with B vitamins, which your body needs to maintain healthy neuronal activity and brain cells.
- Walnuts help replace B vitamins. Brazil nuts hop you up on zinc (also drained by high anxiety), almonds boost vitamin E (which helps fight cellular damage linked to chronic stress), and pistachios can soften the impact stress hormones have on the body. Nuts are high in fat, so eat them in moderation.
- Asparagus is a source of folic acid, a natural mood lightener. Dip the spears in full-fat (Greek) yogurt or sour cream for a hit of calcium with each bite. Inadequate calcium levels can lead to impaired memory and cognition. The naturally-occurring high levels of folate in asparagus also may help alleviate symptoms of mild depression, such as lethargy and mental cloudiness.
- Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Calcium helps your body maintain its circadian rhythm, and potassium and magnesium are minerals which help overstressed muscles. For example, a spinach salad is packed with magnesium, which helps regulate your body’s level of cortisol, which tends to get depleted when we’re under pressure and chronic stress.
- All complex carbohydrates prompt the brain to make more serotonin. Other healthy options include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and oatmeal, or steel-cut oats. Complex carbs also help you feel balanced by stabilizing blood sugar levels. Throw some cherry tomatoes in the mix with some garlic and olive oil in your pasta. Tomatoes, much like the summertime fruit watermelon, are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that not only protects yours brain, but helps to fight depression-causing inflammation. Olive oil has been shown to increase lycopene absorption.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and trout, can protect your heart from surges in stress hormones. Aim to eat four ounces of fatty fish at least three times a week. Fish such as cod, salmon, halibut, tuna and snapper are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that naturally raises serotonin levels.
- Hummus. Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are the main ingredient in hummus. They are brimming with tryptophan, folate, and vitamin B6. Make your own by combining a tablespoon of no-sugar canned pumpkin with some chickpeas, garlic (relaxes blood vessels and promotes overall arterial health), olive oil, lemon juice and tahini (high in magnesium). Note: Pure canned pumpkin is not the same as pumpkin pie filling, which is sugar-laden.
- A glass of warm milk. Your mother knew what she was doing. Milk is the perfect bedtime stress buster. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to our sleep hormone, melatonin, helping you to fall asleep easier. A dollop of cinnamon can help as well — research studies have shown it helps to stabilize your blood sugar. All dairy products are rich in melatonin-boosting calcium. It’s no surprise that cereal with milk, or a banana and some 100 percent whole-grain crackers are an ideal bedtime snack.
- Eggs are teeming with mood-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, choline, and B vitamins. Because they contain a ton of protein, you will feel fuller longer, and more energized as a result. Ditch the egg whites, or egg substitutes, unless of course you have high cholesterol.
- Dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa. The cocoa gives you an instant boost in mood and concentration, and helps to improve blood flow to the brain by relaxing blood vessels. Two ounces (roughly the size of a square) a day should do it. A recent study revealed that eating just 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa every day for two weeks alleviated the stress hormone cortisol, and pro-inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein.
- Green tea contains theanine, an amino acid that helps regulate stress, mood, and muscle relaxation. If drinking past 3 p.m., opt for decaf green tea so that caffeine will not impair your sleep.
Avoid anything fat-free and processed as all essential nutrients are stripped, making it rife with unhealthy added sugar and sodium substitutions. This may cause a dip in your energy levels, after an initial energy burst of energy.
These food “cures” found in your kitchen, alongside laughter, social activities, and daily stretching or exercising all go a long way in promoting optimal health.