Your diet has a tremendous effect on your overall health and wellbeing; especially now during the winter months, when the winter blues is hovering and the likelihood for depression is on the rise.
What do you do when you’re stressed out and feeling down? Do you raid your refrigerator and snack on everything in sight? If so, don’t be embarrassed, you’re not alone. According to research by Harvard Health Publications, stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol – a hormone that increases appetite and may ramp up the motivation to eat.
Prevent yourself from eating unhealthy foods like potato chips and sweets by stocking your fridge with healthy foods that help boost happiness and fight depression. For instance, nuts – Brazil nuts, walnuts, and cashews – are the perfect snacking options. Cashews will “give you a healthy dose of the antidepressant amino acid tryptophan, which is what your body needs to be able to produce serotonin,” Jessica Rosen, certified holistic health coach and president of Raw Generation, says.
1. Brazil Nuts
“These nuts are high in selenium, which is important for the healthy production of thyroid hormones,” Liz Mountford, Nutritional Medicine Practitioner and Associate Nutritionist of the Nutrition Society of Australia, says. “It only takes small changes in thyroid hormones to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety.”
2. Grass-Fed Meat
“Grass-fed meat provides one of the best sources of absorbable iron,” Mountford says. “An iron deficiency can alter many metabolic functions within the body and especially the production of ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters.”
Tahini is made out of sesame seeds, which are rich in zinc, Mountford says. “Zinc is a mineral that is needed in the brain and people that suffer from zinc deficiency have been found to be at higher risk of suffering [from] depression.” Zinc has also been found to aid in weight loss; it improves metabolic function while also helping the production of enzymes that protect cells.
Salmon contains one of the highest levels of vitamin B12 – a water-soluble vitamin that has been shown to have a variety of healthy effects on the body. But most importantly, “vitamin B12 is essential for the production of the ‘happy’ brain chemical serotonin and people that have deficiencies in vitamin B12 are more likely to suffer from depression,” Mountford says.
“Walnuts provide a rich source of the essential fatty acid omega 3,” Mountford says. “This fatty acid found in walnuts is needed to keep cell membranes in the brain healthy and help produce the brain’s ‘happy’ neurotransmitter chemicals.”
6. Tart Cherries
“These particular types of cherries contain the neurotransmitter melatonin, which is essential to help sleep and to produce serotonin which is crucial in helping to regulate mood,” Mountford says.
7. Free Range Eggs
“Our brains produce neurotransmitters, which help regulate our mood,” Mountford says. “To do this, the brain needs a steady supply of essential amino acids, which are broken down from proteins.” Eggs are an excellent protein source that encompasses all the essential amino acids our brains need to produce neurotransmitters to help regulate mood, she adds.
8. Fermented Foods
The role that gut bacteria plays on mental health is becoming increasingly important. “Gut bacteria produce up to 90% of the feel-good neurotransmitter chemical, serotonin,” Mountford says. “Fermented food such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha act as a probiotic by supplying good bacteria to the digestive system.”
“Sufferers from depression have higher levels of inflammation in the brain, which can decrease levels of the happy neurotransmitter serotonin,” Mountford says. “Curcumin is the active component of turmeric and is a powerful anti-inflammatory.” Researchers have found that curcumin helps reduce symptoms of depression due to its anti-inflammatory properties, she adds.
10. Shitake Mushrooms
13. Wild-Caught Salmon
“A huge portion of your brain is made up of fatty acids, but your body doesn’t produce them on its own,” Rosen says. That’s why wild-caught salmon – salmon caught in its natural environment – is one of the best foods for boosting happiness; it’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acid content, she adds. Possible symptoms of omega-3 deficiency include depression, anxiety, and a lack of mental clarity, she says. “Plus salmon is packed with more than twice the vitamin B12 you need each day.”
14. Raw Cacao or Dark Chocolate
“In high doses, raw cacao can induce mild feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and reduced social inhibitions,” Rosen says. “Just a small serving causes the brain to release feel-good endorphins, boosts serotonin levels, and increases blood flow to the brain.” Regular consumption of energizing cacao (or dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao) has been shown to improve cognitive function/memory and reduce stress hormones, she adds.
“Strawberries are full of stress-relieving anthocyanins which protect the brain’s neurological health,” Rosen says. “They also offer an abundance of brain-boosting nutrients like folate and vitamins A and C, helping to prevent against brain degeneration.” Eating more strawberries increases the amount of serotonin your brain produces, which in turn promotes a sense of well-being and relaxation, she adds.