Most of us are familiar with the concept of comfort eating—the urge to reach for a tub of ice cream or a bag of chips at the end of a long day is something we can all relate to. Sweet, indulgent treats are great in moderation, but working the following mood-boosting foods into your snack schedule and regular meals goes even further toward keeping your brain happy and healthy.
Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, antioxidants that lower a stress hormone called cortisol. White and milk chocolates contain more sugar and fewer of these beneficial compounds, so a good quality dark chocolate is the better choice for breaking out of a bad mood. A serving of 1 to 2 ounces is just about right.
Oily fish is one of the best foods for physical and mental health. Recent studies have found evidence to support using omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish like salmon — to treat depression and other mental health conditions. Salmon also contains vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which both play a role in brain function.
Aim for three servings of oily fish per week. People who don’t eat fish can get their omega-3s from tofu or ground flax seeds, and vegetarian supplements are becoming more widely available, too.
Nuts are another healthy source of omega-3s and also contain vital nutrients like zinc, magnesium, and selenium, which play a role in reducing depression. Brazil nuts, almonds, and walnuts are the most beneficial for promoting positive mental health and balancing mood.
While they have plenty of health benefits, nuts are high in fat, so eating them in moderation is best. One small handful per day is enough to reap the benefits of this bite-sized treat.
Serotonin is the body’s natural feel-good hormone, and a whopping 95% of it comes from the gut. Fermented foods contain probiotics that increase the healthy bacteria in the gut, which in turn boosts serotonin production, improving our mood.
Probiotic foods include live yogurt, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Eating two to three servings of a variety of fermented foods every day is the best way to get the most out of probiotics.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are essential for a healthy body and mind thanks to their energy-boosting nutrients, vitamins, and fiber. While most contain the powerful antioxidant vitamin C, berries also contain anthocyanins to help preserve normal brain function.
All berries have flavonoids, natural compounds with plenty of benefits including boosting mood, but blueberries are one particularly effective choice because they contain the full profile of flavinoids. One cup of berries is the recommended daily portion for an adult.
Packed full of fiber and nutrients, beans and lentils are excellent for both mind and body. They are a great source of mood-boosting B vitamins, which are crucial for neurotransmitter function, and they boast a lot of selenium and zinc, too.
Half a cup of cooked beans is a good daily portion, but if you're vegetarian or vegan, you can probably find even more ways to incorporate them into your meals.
Another great source of B vitamins is dark leafy green vegetables like kale, collard, and spinach. Also a source of fiber and magnesium, leafy greens contain high quantities of iron, which is vital for memory and regulating emotional behavior. The iron in vegetables is not absorbed by the body quite as readily as that in animal products, but it is still an important component.
Aim to eat at least one cup of cooked greens every day.
A good source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, avocados also contain high levels of B vitamins and vitamin C, which can help to reduce stress and boost mental performance.
Vitamin B6 in particular plays a vital role in serotonin and dopamine production, which helps regulate emotions. Like nuts, avocados are high in fat so enjoy this creamy, rich addition in moderation — most sources suggest about one-third of an avocado per serving.
As well as providing valuable protein, eggs are also packed full of nutrients like vitamin D, selenium, and B vitamins. A deficiency of B12, in particular, may contribute to depression.
There is still a lot of talk about eggs and cholesterol, but most medical professionals today agree that one egg a day is perfectly safe for most people.
When there’s a crisis, the first thing many people do is make a cup of tea, and there’s a good reason for this. The ritual of making tea and taking a quiet moment out of the day has a profoundly positive effect on mental health. Recent research into green tea has identified beneficial compounds that reduce anxiety and improve alertness, memory, and cognition.
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