The cold season is upon us, and as the temperature drops, there is potential for moods to plumet. Ah, “the winter blues.” It arrives in all shapes and forms, and may impact some, more than others. Luckily, there are many different foods that one can add to the pantry and stock up to result in a more blissful season. These foods are not only a healthy addition to a general diet, but also aid to release certain molecules that specifically benefit mood. Here are seven happy items to add to your grocery list:
In addition to being a lean protein source, turkey contains high levels of a chemical called Tryptophan. This amino acid is a catalyst towards Serotonin production, which is also referred to as the “feel good” molecule, which the body naturally produces. Serotonin wards off anxiety, stress, and mild depression.
For those who are vegetarian or vegan, another wonderful source of tryptophan can be found in cashews. But that’s not all. Cashews also contain substantial amounts of magnesium and B6, which all together create the perfect trifecta to fight depression. When magnesium is low, anxiety is triggered. Vitamin B6 works as an escort to both tryptophan and magnesium, by helping to power the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, and helping magnesium enter the blood cells.
Yes, tryptophan is in spinach too! As a bonus, Spinach also contains folate, which performs the same task as tryptophan; helping the brain to release levels of serotonin. To assist with the serotonin conversion, spinach contains plenty of B vitamins, so expect higher energy, improved mental focus, and overall well-being, when adding this superfood to the regime. It should also be noted the spinach contains omega-3s, which leads to an increase of stabilized moods.
Tryptophan is in the spotlight for this list, but another important mood-booster is a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to overall brain health and function. Ingesting omega-3s combat anxiety, and walnuts have a plentiful dose of omega-3s and tryptophan (as well as protein and antioxidants).
- Fatty Fish
Another ideal omega-3s are rooted in fatty fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna. 2-3 grams of this lean protein can reduce inflammation, regulate the brain’s neurotransmitters, improve circulation, and as an extra gift, it’s great for the heart as well.
While the goal is to increase serotonin production in the brain, it is important to pay attention to the gut as well. This is because 80%-90% of the body’s serotonin is fashioned by the nerve cells in the gut. Mushrooms act as a probiotic to promote healthy bacteria in the gut. They are another candidate that is rich in B vitamins, which are essential for mood and serotonin production. It is important to mention that they also work to deny insulin. When the blood sugar is low, shifts in mood are more level
- Dark Chocolate
When times are tough, it is habitual to seek out fatty or sugar-laden foods for comfort. Unfortunately, increased sugar intake leads to a drop in glucose blood levels and also causes inflammation. This is the opposite of feeling good. Instead of a hot milk chocolate, a dark chocolate drink can be worth the trade. Dark chocolate contains abundant antioxidants to fight free radicals, plus it reduces stress, improves mood, strengthens gut health, and it helps with serotonin production. Just be sure to limit it to small servings, no more than 2oz. per day, and to also choose a dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa or darker.
Diet has a massive impact on general health and mental health. Adding lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of green, leafy vegetables reduce inflammation and improve mood. Although it is a major factor in overall health for the brain, it is not a substitute to mental illness mediation. As always, consult with your physician about dietary changes or possible interactions with certain foods and medication and write down any observations in your mood and food journal.
By: Kathryn Chambers
Intern, Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc.