Health

10 healthy foods that help boost your mood

Natural antidepressants to cheer you up

If you have felt sluggish after a heavy lunch or happy after having some chocolate, you will know that what you eat directly impacts your mood, well-being and mental health.

The best dietary plan should feature a variety of food groups, lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, whole grains and foods rich in omega-3, which can keep depression at bay with a host of essential nutrients. Start adding these to your diet.

OATS

When our blood sugar levels are erratic, spiking and dipping drastically, we tend to be irritable and lethargic. That sugar rush we get after eating foods with high glycemic index also leaves us cranky a while later.

Apart from keeping our blood sugar levels stable by releasing energy into the bloodstream slowly, oats also contain selenium, a mood-boosting mineral.

NUTS

Nuts are nutrient-dense snacks packed with protein, healthy fats and fibre. (They are also calorie-dense so keep your serving to 30g a day.)

Brazil nuts in particular are a rich source of selenium, and three are all you need to hit your recommended daily amount. For omega-3 fatty acids, crunch on walnuts and almonds. Add a handful of them to your salad, breakfast yogurt, or have them as a mid-afternoon snack.

FATTY FISH

Studies have shown that people with depression have low levels of brain chemicals, DHA and EPA. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout contain these oils.

They maintain brain function, allowing the neurotransmitters to work better and preserving cell membrane health.

Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce high triglyceride levels, protecting from cardiovascular diseases, so eat a serving of fish two to three times a week.

WHOLEGRAINS

Whole grains and high-fibre carbohydrates keep blood sugar levels stable, regulating brain neurotransmitter secretions.

Grains also contain B vitamins. Keep away from refined flour products and sugar as they can spike blood sugar levels and, over time, lead to type 2 diabetes, dementia, anxiety and a desire for more carbs.

FERMENTED FOODS

Research suggests that maintaining healthy intestinal microbiota can have positive effects on our mood and overall health, because healthy bacteria can influence the nervous system and release compounds necessary for metabolising dopamine, a neurotransmitter that actively influences our mood.

Such probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt.

LEAFY VEGETABLES

Deficiency in B vitamins may be a contributing factor to depression, because low levels can hinder the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical in our brain.

Loading up on leafy greens and root vegetables that contain myriad vitamins, minerals and fibre can reduce risk. Aim to have two to three cups daily.

PROTEIN

Lean chicken and turkey breast meat contain tryptophan, which the body uses to produce serotonin and the melatonin hormone, which regulates sleep.

Lean poultry also contains tyrosine, which helps to reduce symptoms of depression and is used to produce another mood-affecting hormone: adrenaline.

Grass-fed beef contains more healthy omega-3 fats that improve brain function and provide the chemicals needed to keep depression away.

LEGUMES

Legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas contain folate. One cup of lentils provides about 90 per cent of the recommended daily amount of folate. Legumes contain prebiotics that improve gut health by feeding the healthy bacteria in our gut.

DARK CHOCOLATE

A small square of dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa or more) can trigger the release of endorphins and boost serotonin levels in the brain.

Chocolate contains polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that can boost mood. Studies have shown that chocolate eaters produce fewer stress hormones and have lower anxiety levels.

FRUITS

Fruits are rich in micronutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Bananas, in particular, contain a host of nutrients, including potassium, phosphorous, iron, fibre and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins A, B6 and C, and tryptophan, which helps to boost our mood and allow for a more restful sleep. The carbohydrates in bananas help the brain absorb tryptophan better, while vitamin B6 helps to convert tryptophan into serotonin.

This article was first published in Shape (www.shape.com.sg)

Food & Drink