Oh, food serves more purposes than just solely being a source of energy and enjoyment? Do tell me more.
YES, it’s true. Certain foods have been shown to help DE-STRESS! First and foremost, pay attention to your own body and how you FEEL after you eat certain foods. The list we’re about to break down here is based on research, but of course still cannot be generalized to every single individual. And of course: BE INFORMED ABOUT YOUR CHOICE. Food is not the end-all-to-be-all when it comes to healing.
Part of the reason I dived straight into the personal training world AND the mental health world was because I was so fascinated by how deeply the mind and body are connected. It’s a symbiotic relationship here. They act on one another constantly, and the health of one cannot be ignored without also impacting the other. So it makes sense that when we eat specific foods (that make us feel good), there is a positive effect on our mental health as well.
When we’re talking folic acid (or folate) here, we’re referring to leafy greens (think kale), asparagus, avocado, and beans. Numerous studies have shown that depressed patients actually have lower folate levels, leading researchers to believe that consuming more folate-rich foods may improve emotional disturbances and mood.
Folate itself is involved in the synthesis in two neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine. If you were paying attention in biology in high school or college, you may know that both of these neurotransmitters have an impact on mood. An imbalance in these can actually lead to the development of depression and anxiety disorders. If I didn’t make the point clear enough already: keeping these neurotransmitters balanced (through folate intake) is crucial!
And for you ladies reading this, estrogen levels have been shown to rise when supplementing with folic acid. The result? Improvements in depressive symptoms as well.
Alright, let’s be honest here: I would still eat dark chocolate regardless of any health benefits. Alas, let’s get to all the good stuff that dark chocolate gives us. Mood is shown to improve when dark chocolate increases serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks can actually lower levels of cortisol (AKA the stress hormone). It also contains l-theanine, which actually acts as a natural physical and mental relaxant.
PS. Look for dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa!
Blueberries are not only freakin’ delicious, but they contain stress-fighting vitamin C and anthocyanin. Vitamin C can also help lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, which both can become unbalanced during stressful times. Because of their antioxidant content and ability to fight off free radicals, our immune system is better supported and are bodies are better equipped to respond to stressful situations.
PS, a 1 cup serving of blueberries provides 24% of your daily vitamin C intake!
First off: what makes a fermented food… a fermented food? They have been exposed to natural and beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli. Say that 5 times fast. The bacteria itself feeds on starches and sugars in the food, and converts them into sour-tasting lactic acid. Think kimchi, miso, pickled veggies, kefir, and sauerkraut. The brain-gut connection is HUGE when it comes to mental health. An unhealthy gut can negatively impact brain health, which also means it can lead to anxiety and/or depression.
The gut itself, or the microbiome, is a pretty hot topic lately. And reasonably so: the microbiome plays a huge impact on our brain health by communicating to the brain through our immune system and nerve signals. Fermented foods directly affect our gut health and bacteria composition in our digestive system. The process of fermentation itself also increases the availability of B-vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. Guess what? These all impact mood, too.
Fun little fact before we dive into the benefits: the browner and spottier the banana, the more nutritional benefits. Read more HERE.
Bananas are full of tryptophan, which is a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin. And because I like to repeat myself, I’ll say it once more: serotonin is crucial in mood improvement and reducing stress.
Ladies, bananas can also help during our menstrual cycle. BLESSED. If you suffer from mood swings during your period (yep, ditto), grab a banana. They contain vitamin B-6, which can help regulate blood glucose levels, which can directly affect mood.
The high-potassium content in bananas can also help to reduce stress. When we’re stressed, metabolic rate tends to increase, while our potassium levels decrease. Bananas can help level out these imbalances.
Shoot for about 2 servings of salmon (or other oily fish) each week. If your love for salmon is anything like mine, you’ll find this pretty easy to do. Salmon itself is full of omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to balance out inflammatory polyunsaturated fats and reduce excessive cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that can directly impact physical AND psychological stress. By including foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, we’re helping to keep our cortisol levels (and stress) in check.
High anxiety and stress also reduce vitamin D stores. This vitamin is so crucial for mood and stress management; salmon haaaappens to be a great source of vitamin D, which works to help replenish stores of it (specifically in winter as well when most people tend to be deficient).
Look in your cupboard. Now. My guess is you might actually already have turmeric in there – and yet never use it! It’s okay, I hadn’t really touched mine either until I learned about the anxiety-reducing benefits of this spice.
Turmeric contains antioxidants called curcuminoids, which offer numerous benefits. Of course, one being decreased anxiety levels as the antioxidants work to boost mood. Turmeric also acts as an anti-inflammatory (which, we may be aware that chronic inflammation has negative impacts on our health). It works as an anti-anxiety as well by increasing DHA levels in the brain. When DHA levels are LOW, individuals are more likely to suffer from cognitive disorders and anxiety. Turmeric can help to raise DHA levels, while improving cognitive functioning.
Please read this full article! It’s EXTREMELY informational when it comes to turmeric being the God-like spice that all of us need to consume more of.