We’ve all heard of eating for better heart health and to lower the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and even certain types of cancer – but what about eating to improve your mood?
Scientists are finding an increasingly large body of evidence to support the idea that the foods we put into our bodies play a substantial role in how we feel on a psychological level. That is, what we eat and drink directly affects our mood, behavior, thought patterns and learning ability.
The brain is an immensely powerful organ, and like any other organ in your body, it requires the proper nutrients to keep things running smoothly. Through some simple dietary changes, you possess the power to both boost cognitive function and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are vital for maintaining and restoring brain health. They assist in the brain’s development during childhood, and can minimize and/or prevent brain disease and age-related cognitive decline later in life (such as poor memory and Alzheimer’s disease). On a day-to-day basis, optimum intakes of these fats have been found to increase concentration, learning ability, memory, and mood.
Quality sources of these fats include:
- Oily fish – halibut, sardines, mackerel, wild salmon (never farm-raised), fresh tuna, trout, and swordfish
- Shellfish – crab and mussels
- Raw, unroasted nuts and seeds (and their oils & butters) – walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds
- Dark leafy greens – kale, spinach, swiss chard, arugula, and broccoli
- Organic soy products – soymilk, tofu, edamame (soy beans), tempeh
- Olives and extra virgin olive oil
- Almond milk (unsweetened)
- Coconut meat, flakes, and virgin unrefined oil
Brain cells are especially vulnerable to attack by free radicals – molecular by-products of modern living that create inflammation and disease within the body. Antioxidants found in certain foods serve to inhibit the production of these harmful compounds in the body. A diet high in antioxidants can significantly reduce the risk of cognitive decline associated with free radicals and inflammation, such as memory loss and judgment and reasoning impairments. Inflammation (a direct by-product of free radicals) has also been identified as a potential cause of depression. According to recent research, anti-inflammatory foods (including those high in antioxidants) may prevent against or reduce symptoms of depression.
The following are a list of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals with particularly high concentrations of antioxidants:
- ·Vitamin C is best known for its immunity-boosting properties, but it actually plays a significant role in mental health as well. Foods high in vitamin C increase energy, fight fatigue, elevate mood, assist in the production of dopamine (a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter), and reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger. These foods include berries, citrus fruits, pineapples, kiwis, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, and peas.
- ·Vitamin E is extremely important for the protection of brain cell membranes from oxidative damage. It also has been found to prevent or slow the rate of cognitive decline as the brain ages. In fact, a recent study found that individuals eating a diet rich in vitamin E had a corresponding decrease in “mental age” of 8-9 years. Foods high in this vitamin include olives and olive oil, avocados, raw nuts, raw seeds, dark leafy greens, and parsley.
- ·Zinc is a mineral and powerful antioxidant that is essential for optimal mental health. Zinc deficiency is associated with a number of cognitive, neurological, and psychological conditions, including ADD, alcoholism, autism, depression, and severe tension. Zinc is also essential for short-term memory function. To ensure you’re getting enough zinc in your diet, try eating oysters, beans, lean red meat or poultry, lobster, crab, raw nuts, and raw seeds.
- ·Selenium is an essential trace mineral that increases antioxidant activity within the brain and body. Low levels of selenium have been linked to feelings of anxiety and adverse mood states. Because selenium is a trace mineral, we do not need to ingest much of it to experience its benefits. Foods that contain selenium include seafood, brazil nuts, shiitake mushrooms, pinto beans, chia seeds, brown rice, raw seeds, broccoli, cabbage, and spinach.
- ·Carotenoids and flavonoids are the phytochemicals that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors, protecting them from sun-induced free radical damage. They also serve as powerful antioxidants within the human body, providing us with similar protection. For optimal mental, psychological, and physical health, be sure to eat lots of carotenoid- and flavonoid-containing foods.
- Foods high in carotenoids include carrots, red bell peppers, tomatoes, squash (all varieties), sweet potatoes, mangoes, and dark leafy greens.
- Foods high in flavonoids include dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa), red and purple berries, grapes, olives, citrus fruits, onions, apples, leeks, garlic, fresh peas, beans, dark leafy greens, and fresh herbs.
Swordfish Steaks with Lemon Dressing
Try this simple, crowd-pleasing, and brain-boosting recipe to increase your intake of “feel-good” nutrients!
This dish contains a hearty supply of essential omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, and antioxidants. Adding a veggie-based side dish will increase omega-3 consumption and nearly double your intake of antioxidants.
- 5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, well crushed
- 2 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 4 swordfish steaks, about 6 oz each
- Salt and pepper
- For the dressing, place all ingredients (expect the swordfish), with a little salt and pepper to taste, in a screw-top jar and shake well to combine.
- Preheat a ridged broiler pan over high heat. Pat the swordfish steaks dry with paper towels and lightly brush with oil on both sides. When the broiler pan is very hot, add the swordfish steaks and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until cooked through but still moist inside.
- Serve the swordfish immediately, with the lemon dressing drizzled over.
*This dish pairs well with a side of new potatoes and green vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, or salad greens.