In the last post in this series, I am sharing with you 6 foods that I usually have in my kitchen. These foods are high in various nutrients and are good for your brain health. These foods can also help to improve your mood in a natural and effective manner. As you know, most of us are dealing with high levels of stress in our lives today. The foods that you eat every day can go a long way in improving your mood or prevent mood imbalances.
The first post in this series “To improve your mood focus on your gut” focused on the connection between your brain and your gut. The second post “Food for thought- how your diet impacts your brain” was on about the various key food groups that nourish your brain. In this post, I share with you 6 specific foods that you can add to your diet on a regular basis to help support a better mood. These are not the high sugary foods that lift your mood temporarily followed by a crash. These are foods which have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing and help improve your mood.
Foods to avoidBefore I start discussing the list of foods, you first need to become aware of what you need to avoid. These are the highly refined, sugar filled and foods poor in nutrient value that contribute to excessive blood sugar fluctuations in your body and various mood imbalances including anxiety. By not having these foods, the feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, nervousness, irritability and stress can reduce considerably.
- Simple carbohydrates/sugar – which includes most chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, and high sugar drinks. This is because all these foods lead to a roller coaster ride of high blood sugar levels followed by low levels creating a vicious cycle. This roller coaster ride is often accompanied by anxiety and mood swings.
- Caffeinated drinks – tea, coffee, fizzy drinks etc. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and elevates heart rate, increases blood flow, raises body temperature and blood sugar. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others especially if they already suffer from anxiety and depression.
- Alcohol- Studies show that alcohol contributes to increased feelings of anxiety and at the same time cause nutrient deficiencies worsening mood related disorders and imbalances. It also leads to sleep problems due to the hindering effect it has on good quality REM sleep further adding to mood imbalances.
- Processed foods – these are also usually high in simple sugars, poor in nutrients and filled with artificial colourings and flavours all of which affect your brain health and your mood.
These are often the very foods which we reach for when we are feeling low, depressed or anxious making us feel good only to crash later on. The foods I have shared below are only some of many which contain key nutrients for brain health. These are nutrients like amino acids, b vitamins, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, zinc and other vitamins.
Dark chocolate contains magnesium (also known as the relaxation mineral) and other mood boosting compounds like theobromine. Theobromine has a stimulant effect which is gentler than caffeine and the high magnesium content in cacao contributes to both energy production and relaxation. It is also high in health promoting phytonutrients (flavonoids) which improve brain health.
2. Fermented foods (probiotics)
The fermentation process of fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, naturally produced pickles, dosa/idli) allow probiotic bacteria to be produced and support gut health. Due to the intricate connection between your gut health and brain health, these foods can help regulate your mood to a large extent.
However, be careful of the sugar content of the beverages since they can be quite high in some cases.
3. Green tea
Green tea contains L Theanine, an amino acid that helps fight anxiety and helps you relax. Research shows that drinking 2-3 cups a day can provide many mood boosting nutrients and reduce depression.
4. Leafy greens
Spinach and other leafy greens contain high levels of a B vitamin called folate. Low folate levels have been frequently linked to depression and mood imbalances most likely linked to a deficiency of neurotransmitters which are important for mental wellbeing in studies like this one.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fibre. They also provide tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin which helps lift your mood. Seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax and nuts like almond, walnut, cashew are excellent sources of the same.
Nuts and seeds like brazil nuts, almonds, pine nuts are good sources of zinc and selenium which are important for brain function and for helping with depression.
6. Fatty fish like salmon
Salmon is rich in tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA as well as vitamin B12 and B6, so it helps the body produce serotonin, giving us a mood boost and reduce inflammation, protecting the nerves in our brain.
It is one of my go-to foods for skin and brain health!
A recent study has found that the best foods or food groups to eat for enhanced mood include:
- Cruciferous Vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy, kale)
- Leafy greens
- Organ meats (liver, kidney and others)
- Peppers (capsicum, red and yellow bell pepper)
Small dietary changes can go a long way in making a huge difference in your mental health and well being in the long run. You can start small and increase these brain healthy foods over a period of time. By replacing nutrient poor foods high in sugar refined carbohydrates with foods which nourish your brain, you can play an active role in your mental and emotional wellbeing irrespective of your external environment.
That awareness and feeling of empowerment by itself can end up contributing towards a better mood!