Did you know your diet significantly impacts your mood? It’s true. The food you consume doesn’t only apply to your physical health. In fact, our mind and body are one entity, and what we eat directly impacts both equally. And while many of us meditate or journal to improve how we feel emotionally, looking at your diet will also help. So here are some of the best foods to support your mental health to ensure you’re fueling it with the love it deserves.
12 Best Foods to Support Your Mental Health
1. Healthy fats
Avocado and olive oil are two of the healthiest fats that positively impact your mental health. For example, avocados are ripe with vitamin K and folate. Two essential vitamins to protect your brain, boost your memory, and lower depression. And pure extra-virgin olive oil contains Vitamin E and K, which protect the brain from free radical damage. While it’s ability to boost two necessary brain chemicals, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor, counteract the negative effects of stress on the brain and lead to lower depression. Therefore, do yourself a favor and make heart-healthy avocado recipes and desserts or have avocado toast drizzled with olive oil for your morning dose of brain-protecting happiness.
Everybody is nuts for nuts lately, and we can’t blame them. Nuts are an excellent source of omega-3s and other minerals that lower depression and decrease anxiety. For example, almonds contain a high dose of phenylalanine, an essential amino acid that produces dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, and magnesium, perfect for reducing stress. Other nuts that will boost your mood and keep your anxiety at bay include walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts.
Eating brain-boosting foods like blueberries should be your daily go-to to improve your mental health and keep you on top of your game. Why? For starters, they contain high levels of antioxidants like anthocyanins that support a healthy stress tolerance and folate, a vitamin that boosts your mood naturally. And lastly, they are ripe with flavonoids that protect your cells from harmful free radicals and lower your risk for dementia.
4. Leafy greens
Greens are always on top of the superfood list, and there are multiple reasons why. Spinach, kale, bok choy, mustard, collard, and dandelion, to name a few, contain carotenoids-antioxidants that protect against cancer. Yet as it relates to mental health, they are packed full of folate, and low levels of folate are associated with low mood, anxiety, and depression. But if you’re not a fan, opt for these delicious summer salads to get your daily fix of greens.
5. Fermented goodies
Ever wondered why your gut is called your second brain? The enteric nervous system that regulates your gut uses the same chemicals as the brain to help you make decisions and digest food, impacting your overall quality of life. To keep this system happy, load up on fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, and kombucha. These foods, enriched with healthy bacteria, will positively benefit your cognitive function, decrease anxiety and depression symptoms, and maintain healthy digestion. Triple win!
One of the best foods to support your mental health is omegas. For example, studies show two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alleviate symptoms of mood disorders. And, of course, the most popular choices are salmon and sardines. But if your diet doesn’t support animal products, choose seaweed, flax seeds, or walnuts.
7. Dark chocolate
Yes, chocolate is on this list. Not only is it delicious, but dark chocolate, in particular, can also be a form of self-care. In fact, a bar of 70 percent of cacao or higher is full of serotonin, the happy hormone, and flavonoids, which are mood-enhancing nutrients that lead to improved cognitive function. So the next time you feel sad and want to learn how to feel better when you’re having a bad day, grab chocolate. It will help.
Lycopene. The reason that gives tomatoes their red hue and why tomatoes are key to protecting your mental health. It’s a phytonutrient proven to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia while protecting your brain from oxidative stress. Even more, tomatoes could also ward off depression. So, sneak them into your salad, top your eggs for a protein + mental health boost, or eat them raw.
While eating too many grains can cause brain fog due to blood sugar spikes, the right amount meets your daily requirement for fiber. For example, 45-65% of your daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates like quinoa, wild rice, oats, barley, and beans. These fiber-rich foods feed probiotics in your gut, aiding healthy digestion and turning glucose into a consistent source of energy. On top of these incredible benefits, whole grains also naturally produce tryptophan. So, if you eat it with lean meats like chicken and turkey or soy for the vegans, you’ll receive a serotonin and melatonin boost, perfect for feeling happier and getting a great night’s sleep.
Spice up your food and life with turmeric and garlic. To start, curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory that has the power to reduce depression and anxiety while aiding various physical conditions. And garlic, while also an anti-inflammatory, provides a high dose of vitamin B6, necessary for boosting your immune system and mood.
11. Whole foods
Many studies show that foods with processed sugar, additives, and coloring increase depression and anxiety. And while your favorite cookies or crips may be hard to resist, they aren’t benefiting your mental or physical health. Therefore, always choose foods with real ingredients, and if you’re battling a strong sugar craving, don’t rob yourself of life’s pleasures. Instead, make guilt-free desserts or learn how to quit sugar like a boss with healthier yet equally satisfying options.
12. Eat the rainbow
When in doubt, eat the rainbow. This means loading your shopping cart with every available fruit and veggie you can get your hands on. Both offer a steady stream of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals designed to boost your physical and mental health. Not only will your meals scream with vibrant color, but you’ll notice more pep in your step.
There you have it! Our list of the best foods to support your mental health. And remember, it’s okay to crave sugar and other things that may not be the best for you. But instead of worrying about every little thing you’re consuming, get creative and make an alternative at home with healthy ingredients. It will save money and boost your overall health.
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