This time of year is always a bit daunting, as the days grow shorter and the nights longer. Mix in a pandemic, and we’re all looking for a bit of a pick me up. If you’re feeling a bit blue, emerging science shows that eating nature’s healthiest foods can help. No one food is a miracle cure, but a healthy diet, with the addition of a few select foods, can work wonders in improving wellbeing and our resistance against stress. Not to mention, they’ll fill you up and energize you. Talk about food for thought!

 


 

If avoiding stress in your everyday life was as easy as avoiding people during a pandemic, we would all be coasting through life right now! 

Managing daily stressors is a necessary part of life. Besides making you feel alive, stress can push you to meet deadlines, give you an extra kick of energy to get through the day and even boost your memory. But too much of it can negatively impact your physical, mental and emotional health. Needless to say, learning to keep those stress levels at bay is a definite key to success.  

Lucky for us, there are many foods that can help manage those stress levels… and let’s be real, food really can betherapy. Here are six foods proven to improve your mood and mental health:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These are the ‘healthy’ fats that everyone’s been telling you about! Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and other fatty fish are amazing sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies can’t make omega-3 fatty acids on their own, so it’s important we get them from foods (or supplements if fish is just a tad toofishy for you).  

Interestingly enough,research has found that people who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and low mood. This is partly attributed to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nature of omega-3 fats. These fats are also associated with increased serotonin and dopamine levels, all of which areknown to positively influence mood. Fish, please!

2. Fruits and Vegetables

You’ve heard it before, and we’ll say it again: Eat your fruits and vegetables! Truly, they’re the most nutrient dense foods you can energize with - meaning they’ll leave you feeling full, but also give you the most nutrients per calorie. 

Several nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, B9 (folate), zinc and magnesium havebeen linked with symptoms of mood disorders, such as low mood, fatigue, irritability and cognitive decline. So, loading up on a variety of vegetables and fruits which are packed with varying nutrients is always a good strategy. 

For instance, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are excellent sources of B-vitamins, folate in particular, magnesium, and fibre! Legumes, like beans and lentils are known to have a similar nutrient profile. A good rule of thumb to ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients is to eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. When in doubt, eat that rainbow!

3. Green Tea

Tea is a comfort food, right? Well actually, green tea has historically been associated with mood and performance benefits, such as relaxation and concentration.

Green Tea is a dynamo beverage because it has the caffeine benefits of coffee, but also contains l-theanine, an amino acid which produces calming effects in the nervous system. Collectively, the compounds in green teaare proven to reduce anxiety while improving memory, attention, and overall brain function. 

As an added bonus - drinking multiple cups of tea is a great way to stay hydrated, which is crucial asdehydration negatively affects your mood.

4. Chocolate

Alas, the science is finally here to prove what we already knew – chocolatedoes in fact make you happy! Research has found that eating a small amount of dark chocolate can improve your mood. Sorry sweet tooth's, these benefits are most pronounced by chocolate in its purest, darkest, form - the more cocoa, the better!  

Cocoa is a superfood, it houses a whole bunch of flavonoid antioxidants, many of which have been proven to produce these lovely mood-boosting effects. While the mechanisms behind this are still unknown, what we do know is that these magical flavonoids in chocolatecan improve cognitive function and cerebral brain flow, both of which could definitely get that mood up!

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains are truly nature’s superfood, so it’s no surprise that they’re packed withalllllll of the mood-boosting properties. 

Grains are a great, effective mood booster because of their high fibre content and low glycemic index. Theyslowly release sugar into the bloodstream which balances blood sugar and can stabilize your mood - we’re looking at you, sugar crash!

Not to mention, most high quality whole grains (oat/wheat bran, buckwheat, oats) are naturally rich in tryptophan, an amino acid which your body requires to create serotonin, dopamine and melatonin.Research indicates that these neurotransmitters are crucial to improving your mood, pleasure and sleep. So, it’s no surprise that foods high in tryptophan can help keep your spirits up!

6. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are some of Mother Nature's best mood boosters. They’re loaded with important minerals and vitamins that improve mood, such as selenium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. 

Walnuts, for example, are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats and B vitamins. Also, brazil nuts are a great source of magnesium and zinc, both of which are known to have anxiety-reducing effects. 

In terms of seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are great sources of magnesium and zinc. While chia seeds are another incredible source of plant-based omega-3 fats. There’s nothingseedy about these benefits!

In conclusion

Stress is inevitable in life, but so is eating! Choosing the proper fuels can make all the difference in your mood, and so there’s truly nothing to lose here. Try one or all of these tips in due time, as one aspect of your wellness routine to help manage those daily and seasonal stresses. Your mind and body will thank you!

 


References

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Lachance, L., & Ramsey, D. (2015). Food, mood, and brain health: implications for the modern clinician. Missouri medicine,112(2), 111–115.

Larrieu, T., & Layé, S. (2018). Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Frontiers in physiology,9, 1047. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.01047 

Mancini E, Beglinger C, Drewe J, Zanchi D, Lang UE, Borgwardt S. Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review. Phytomedicine. 2017 Oct 15;34:26-37. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2017.07.008. Epub 2017 Jul 27. PMID: 28899506.

McNamara, R. K., & Liu, Y. (2011). Reduced expression of fatty acid biosynthesis genes in the prefrontal cortex of patients with major depressive disorder. Journal of affective disorders,129(1-3), 359–363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2010.08.021 

Nehlig A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British journal of clinical pharmacology,75(3), 716–727. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x

Nilsson AC, Ostman EM, Granfeldt Y, Björck IM. Effect of cereal test breakfasts differing in glycemic index and content of indigestible carbohydrates on daylong glucose tolerance in healthy subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):645-54. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.3.645. PMID: 18326603.

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Zhang, N., Du, S. M., Zhang, J. F., & Ma, G. S. (2019). Effects of Dehydration and Rehydration on Cognitive Performance and Mood among Male College Students in Cangzhou, China: A Self-Controlled Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health,16(11), 1891. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16111891