During November as the evenings get cosier and darker it’s tempting to reach for good old comfort food or the Chinese take away menu but if you want to help your mental health the best thing you can do is make sure you are not depriving yourself from some of these sources of key mood boosting nutrients.
Salmon and fatty oily fish: Salmon is a brilliant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory. Omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA, are crucial for brain and nervous system development. They have been shown to ward off depression – studies indicate communities where people consume more fatty fish are less likely to experience anxiety, mood swings and depression.
Dark leafy greens and more dark leafy greens: These are rich in a wide variety of nutrients, including fibre to balance blood sugar, B vitamins to boost brain function, and iron. Evidence indicates that iron deficiency is linked to altered emotional behaviour, anxiety and the disruption of neurotransmitters. Iron (and B vitamins) also helps us produce energy, and more energy may lead us to feeling positive and bolster our ability to participate in the activities we enjoy. I would try and add a large handful to your dinner each night- kale, swiss chard, spinach etc.
Chia and flax: A great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they contain a wealth of additional nutrients like protein, fibre, calcium and iron. These mood boosting foods are also a good source of magnesium, nature’s relaxant mineral, and it can help reduce stress and anxiety (Which we all need right now!) Add a spoonful to your smoothies or granola bowls.
Turkey: Turkey is rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps us produce the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of tryptophan can lead to lower serotonin production and an increase in anxiety or depressive symptoms, while diets high in tryptophan reduce depression and irritability. It also has tyrosine, another amino acid that is a precursor to brain neurotransmitters. Turkey also contains a multitude of B vitamins – including B6 and B12, and the mineral zinc. A zinc deficiency is associated with mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Eggs: One of my fave mood boosting foods, eggs are high in protein, Vitamin D and B12. They also have lots of choline, a nutrient that supports the nervous system, improves mood and helps produce neurotransmitters, as well as the antioxidant selenium. Since the brain is more vulnerable to oxidative damage, consuming antioxidant foods can help protect and preserve the brain (and our positive mood and outlook in the process). Hard boiled eggs are really good to have in the fridge to hand when you need a quick snack or protein salad topper.
Avocados: The best source of fat with an ultra-creamy texture, avocados have Vitamin B6, fibre, Vitamin E and Vitamin C. They also contain Vitamin B5, which helps synthesize neurotransmitters and supports the adrenal glands. Enjoy some sliced with your dinner or smashed onto some sourdough at lunch with a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Lentils: One of my fave sources of plant based protein, these pulses provide a good supply of folate, a B vitamin that helps develop the nervous system. Folate deficiency is associated with depression, and adding more of it to your diet can help boost your mood. They are also high in fibre for blood sugar control, iron, protein and Vitamin B6; B6 helps our bodies make mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of Vitamin B6 are associated with depression and anxiety. Pop them in a dahl, shepherd’s pie, soup, stew or chilli.
Cacao: Chocolate makes you feel GREAT. Cacao contains a number of potent compounds such as phenylethylamine, which boosts endorphins, and ananadamide, otherwise known as ‘the bliss chemical’. Studies on chocolate show that it can improve mood and cognition, plus it’s a rich source of antioxidants, iron and magnesium to help us relax. Evidence indicates that chocolate is particularly helpful when eaten mindfully and make sure you choose dark, organic, raw varieties instead of Cadburys dairy milk. My favourite brands are ombar and halo, 100% raw and make using unprocessed cacao so you can be sure you are getting all the chocolate benefits without the added sugars and e numbers.
Sweet potatoes: My fave! Sweet potatoes contain an abundance of mood boosters like Vitamin B6 (as well as other B vitamins), Vitamin C and fibre. And there are so many ways to eat them- roasted, blended, steamed they are a power house for your mood. I love making sweet potato wedges for the family, drizzling with olive oil, mixed herbs, salt, pepper and garlic.
Almonds: This mood boosting nut is a great daily snack and go-to for protein (including tyrosine for neurotransmitter production), magnesium, fibre and Vitamin E. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E can help combat free radical damage in the brain and has been shown to improve memory and cognition. Snack on a handful mid-morning or smear some pure almond butter onto a sliced apple with a sprinkle of cinnamon for an ideal afternoon pick me up.