Food for a good mood: 10 foods to eat
Did you know that there is mounting evidence to suggest that what we eat can affect our brain function and mental health?
We all know that a good diet is essential for good health and nutrition. Healthy eating is necessary for strong bones and teeth and to help us maintain a healthy weight, which in turn protects us from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some cancers.
But did you know that there is mounting evidence to suggest that what we eat can also affect our brain function and mental health? In 2016, researchers found that a diet with a high glycemic load may cause increased symptoms of depression and fatigue. A diet with a high glycemic load includes many refined carbohydrates, such as those found in soft drinks, cakes, white bread, and biscuits.
Processed foods are also low in fibre and contain food additives like artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers, which may alter gut microbiota and damage the intestinal barrier, leading to inflammation. That’s concerning, given there’s a strong connection between gut health and mental health. Turns out many of the foods that are bad for our physical health may be just as bad for your mental health.
On the flip side, certain foods contain nutrients and vitamins that can boost brain health and positively affect mood. By fitting more of these into your diet, you’ll be on track to feeling good with an improved mood and less depressive symptoms!
Here’s a list of 10 good foods that may help get you in a good mood:
Salmon is full to the brim of an Omega-3 fatty acid known as DHA. As well as providing numerous physical health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease, DHA is known to fight depression and anxiety and improve both short and long-term memory, contributing to optimal brain health. Salmon is also the ultimate ‘good mood food’ as Omega-3 helps to circulate mood boosting neurotransmitters or ‘feel good’ chemicals – serotonin and dopamine.
Trout and prawns are also high in Omega-3, but if you’re not a fan of seafood, a fish oil supplement can do the trick. Research suggests that fish oil supplements can prevent the onset or improve the symptoms of some mental disorders.
Eggs may make you smarter. It’s true! In a 2017 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Finnish researchers found that eating eggs may boost brain power - not only were regular egg eaters less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, but it was linked to better performance on cognitive tests.
Eggs contain B Vitamins, which play an important role in regulating normal brain function, as well as choline, crucial for memory and learning. Choline can’t be made by the body, so adding an egg a day will ensure you get enough. The humble egg needn’t be boring - here’s 40 egg recipes for go-to midweek meals.
Nuts are such an easy snack – just grab and go. Walnuts are the pick of the bunch for a healthy brain as they can actually help us grow new brain cells (and they actually look like a brain too), but any nuts will do.
Aside from being a wonderful source of fibre and healthy fats, nuts are also full of antioxidants, which may contribute to the prevention of dementia.
They vary widely in their nutritional benefits – one Brazil nut for example, will give you 100% of your RDI for selenium – but whether you’re a fan of almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans or pistachios, there’s no doubt they’re a great addition to a healthy diet.
4. Fermented foods
A happy gut equals a happy mind, and fermented foods are full of good bacteria hell bent on improving your gut health.
Yoghurt is an obvious and delicious choice (make sure you choose one low in sugar), however the recent rise in popularity of kombucha has made this drink (which tastes a bit like a zingy iced tea) very easy to come by. You could also try kimchi or sauerkraut. If you need an excuse, try this amazing kimchi chicken recipe.
Wholegrains are another great source of amino acids that make your body produce serotonin – the happy chemical! Serotonin helps calm the mind, improve your mood, and keep your sleep cycle on track – all of which is helpful for maintaining a good headspace.
It can work really quickly too. If you’re feeling down or low on energy, try eating some brown rice, corn or quinoa. This will release serotonin into your body and could have you feeling happier straight away. This is why starting the day off with a bowl of oats is a great way to put a spring in your step.
Strong scientific evidence exists that eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berry fruits has beneficial effects on the brain and may help prevent age-related memory loss and other changes.
It’s the antioxidants at work again - the high antioxidant content of berries helps protect brain cells from damage by harmful free radicals, found in pollutants, cigarette smoke and other nasties. Blueberries in particular have one of the highest antioxidant concentrations of any fruit, which helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, protecting brain cells from damage and improving symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. They also change the way neurons in the brain communicate, helping the brain stay healthy.
A handful of berries is an easy way to get one of your two recommended serves of fruit a day – add them to your muesli, smoothie, salad or bake them into muffins.
Not just for millennials, avocados are a superfood that pack a punch thanks to their brain-loving bundle of nutrients including monounsaturated fats for healthy blood flow, niacin, folate, vitamin B5 for healthy brain cell structure, vitamin C and vitamin E – another of those powerful antioxidants.
Being a healthy fat, avocadoes assist blood sugar control and work to reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline.
Sick of avo on toast? Here’s 10 avocado recipes to try.
Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you…have a happy and healthy brain! This is because beans contain thiamine, a vitamin needed for the production of acetylcholine whose function is to transmit the neurons essential for memory.
They’re also full of fibre. Fibre is great at keeping you fuller for longer, but this also means they release their sugars gradually, which helps concentration and memory so you can keep a steady work flow throughout the day.
A tin of baked beans is always a winner, or experiment with chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.
9. Dark chocolate
We had to sneak a guilty pleasure in here somewhere. Although as it turns out, like everything there’s no need to feel guilty if you eat dark chocolate in moderation.
A 2018 study supports the brain-boosting effects of dark chocolate. The researchers used imaging methods to look at activity in the brain after participants ate chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao. The researchers concluded that eating this type of dark chocolate may improve brain plasticity, crucial for learning.
Dark chocolate also has brain-boosting powers, including enhanced cognitive function, reduced risk of dementia, and improved performance on memory activities.
But let’s face it, the real bottom line is, chocolate just makes you happy.
10. Plant foods
Another great way to help regulate your mood and feel good is through eating a diet rich in plant foods.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine plants such as dark leafy greens, sunflower seeds, watercress, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, broccoli and peas support a good mood because they are plant-based sources of the amino acid tryptophan. This is used by the brain to produce serotonin, which is largely responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being.
Besides supporting a good mood, plant foods can also help boost good gut bacteria. Dark leafy greens also contain higher levels of iron which can help reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia.
You don’t need to be a great cook to have a go at incorporating some of these foods into your regular diet as they can all be eaten with little or no preparation.
So if you’re feeling a bit off mentally, have a think about your diet. Putting some more of the good stuff in can have a dramatic effect on your mental health and have you on the right track to feeling better. And, of course, if that doesn’t help, talk to a professional.
Healthy living, done your way!
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