Life is tough for everyone at times and can leave you feeling depressed, anxious, and/or overwhelmed. There’s no reason to feel guilty when you’re struggling with such emotions, but there are a lot of ways you can counter them naturally, including through healthy diet choices.
Many foods in their natural state contain substances that encourage the release of hormones that elevate your mood and calm your nerves, while highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates have been associated with lower spirits, increased anxiety and turbulent highs and lows.
Nutrition and mental health experts advise patients to adopt broader eating patterns as well, such as eating at regular intervals which include a breakfast meal, choosing whole grains over refined sugars, consuming a variety of foods and drinking plenty of fluids.
Foods known to contribute to positive feelings include:
Salmon, trout, tuna, herring, kippers, mackerel, sardines and whitebait are among the standouts from the fish family in terms of omega-3 fatty acids. There are three categories of omega-3 acids — DHA and EPA are believed to have the most impact on mental health. They trigger the release of serotonin and fight brain inflammation.
Dried crimini mushrooms
It’s good to keep a few of these in stock as a good source of vitamin B6 — which contributes to the production of serotonin, which regulates mood — and norepinephrine, which helps the body respond to stress. Low dietary levels of B6, also known as pyridoxine, have been linked to depression and related mental issues. This vitamin also helps produce melanin, essential to maintaining circadian rhythms and regulating sleep.
Milk and other dairy products are high in tryptophan, the same amino acid found in turkey reputed to make you sleepy Thanksgiving night. Tryptophan boosts serotonin and melatonin production, while the liver functions uses it to produce niacin, a necessary component for metabolizing energy, which shows up in your own energy levels. Tryptophan should be consumed with some form of carbohydrates to be absorbed; it’s the lone amino acid not blocked by insulin, which is what carbs become after being broken down in the digestive system.
A half-cup of canned plain or vegetarian baked beans contains 26% of recommended daily intake of zinc, which is crucial for fighting stress on the mind as well as the body. Zinc helps to maintain your cortisol levels over time and is depleted during high-stress periods. Since the body has no natural storage of zinc it must be replenished regularly. Other foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, lobster and pork chops.
This and other dark leafy green vegetables carry loads of folate, the lack of which has been tied to depression and other mood disorders. Researchers believe low levels of folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, may hamper production of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.