Your diet is directly related to how you feel, and it is no surprise that if you eat the wrong foods, then you may feel down. Research has shown that our diets have changed over time since the days of our paleolithic, hunter-gatherer ancestors.
What we eat makes all the difference! For example, fermented foods like yogurt have been shown to increase our mental well-being, and our ancestors ate fermented foods unknowingly. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology states, “Our Paleolithic ancestors had plenty of opportunity for the consumption of food products (for example, honey, fruits or berries, and their juices) that had been unknowingly subjected to natural microbial fermentation.”
Let’s dive into 5 foods offering the best mental health properties you may have unknowingly been avoiding. Probiotic yogurt, amino-acid rich protein, omega-3 fatty acid from fish, folate-filled greens, and deliciously sweet antioxidant berries are all notable foods to lift your mood and keep you enjoying life to the fullest.
1. Probiotic yogurt
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that have many helpful benefits for your physical and mental health. Most fermented foods containing probiotics were consumed by our paleolithic ancestors, and these foods affect neurotransmitters, decrease oxidative stress, and ultimately keep healthy bacteria in our stomachs. Recent research has also found probiotic food like yogurt to have exceptional health benefits in regards to stress and anxiety.
Research published in Medical Hypotheses (2005) found probiotics to be a treatment in major depressive disorder (MDD) and suggests, “The effect of probiotics on systemic inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress may ultimately lead to increased brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It is our contention that probiotics may be an adjuvant to standard care in MDD.” Devouring your morning yogurt may go a long way in keeping your mental health moving in the right direction.
2. Amino-acid rich protein
Protein is an essential building block for your body to grow, stay strong and remain healthy as you age. If your body lacks protein, you may have some underlying imbalances in your body, which, in turn, may cause your mood to shift. Protein rich in amino acids assists in the hormonal structuring of a key mood neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is an oldie and a goody when discussing your mental health. When your body has adequate protein, the amino acid tryptophan boosts your serotonin levels.
A 2012 French study Brain Responses to High-Protein Diets, by Dr. Marian Journel and colleagues found, “Protein seems to play an important role in the emergence of satiety.” Their study discusses the direct correlation between high-protein consumption and neural processes. However, you don’t want to start buying steaks every night for dinner. Eating a variety of lean protein, such as eggs, chicken, beans and fish, is a better overall choice for your mental and physical health.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish
You may have heard or read several delightful facts and old wives tales regarding the wonders of omega-3 fatty acids already. What you may not know is that omega-3 is not only an excellent resource for your body, but also an exceptional partner in improving your mental health. Fatty fish or fish in general contain high daily values (DV) of omega-3. Sardines contain almost 2,000 mg per 3-oz serving, and salmon contains approximately 1,000 mg per 3-oz serving. These numbers are wonderful since the recommended DV of omega-3 hovers between 250 mg and 500 mg.
Adding more omega-3 to your diet can assist you in leading a happier life with less anxiety and depression. It is far from a cure-all, but you may see a rise in your mood if you add fish to your dinner menu three times a week. A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) found, “Experimental studies in animals have shown that diets lacking omega 3 PUFA lead to substantial disturbances in neural function, which in most circumstances can be restored by the inclusion of omega 3 PUFA in the diet.” With all those delicious fish choices like salmon, tuna and halibut, why not eat a bit more fish?
4. Folate-filled greens
Getting your daily dose of vegetables has been the topic of the dinner table since most of us were young, “non-vegetable” activists. Over the years, you may have decided vegetables are good — and good for you — which is the right choice. We all know now that mom was in fact right the whole time about eating our veggies. Getting those green veggies are even more important, and it may even be linked to how you feel during the day. Lifting your mood with vegetable power may seem silly; however, there has been ample research of late to support a link between low folate levels and depression. Guess what? Green veggies contain a lot of folate!
A 2010 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine suggests, “Future interventions aiming at improving mental health outcomes among US adults should take into account dietary and other factors that would increase levels of serum folate.” Folate, better known as vitamin B9, is found in green veggies like spinach, lettuce, asparagus and broccoli, and according to this recent research, increased folate leads to a happier you. Spinach contains 49 percent of your folate DV per 100 mg, and asparagus has almost 40 percent per 100 mg. Pair green veggies with a delicious omega-3 rich fish, and you have a meal designed to improve mental health.
5. Deliciously sweet antioxidant berries
Berries have always been a crucial part of human existence and were often a prime subsistence food source for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. If you want to boost your antioxidant levels and increase your mental health, then consuming more delicious berries is the way to go. Berries like raspberries, strawberries, grapes and blueberries contain massive amounts of antioxidants.
Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2012) found that the antioxidant effects berries boast are linked to improvements in adult depression. The study states, “Only food sources of antioxidants were inversely associated with depression. This may indicate that the form and delivery of the antioxidants are important, and that other components of fruits and vegetables may be beneficial for depression.” Get back in touch with your paleo self and forage your local farmers’ market or grocery store for some fresh organic berries.
If you are feeling blue and need a pick-me-up, but you’re not sure where to turn, give your diet a look. Are you balancing the right foods? Are you taking into consideration your mental health as much as your physical health? Balancing the two is essential for a healthier and happier you, so sitting down and making a menu plan to boost your mood is the next step in improving your mental health and personal wellness.
—The Alternative Daily