Food does so much more for us than fill our tummies and satisfy our taste buds. No matter how picky of an eater you are, you can find plenty of foods to help you stay hydrated without so much as removing your Brita filter from the fridge, and others to keep you flu-free, even in the coldest, sneeze-filled months.
As it turns out, the foods we choose to consume don’t just bolster our physical health; they can also assist in regulating our mental health. Nutrition psychology asserts that cognitive decisions, such as, say, what you put in your mouth, can influence mental well-being on top of nutrition and physical health. Health coach and holistic food therapist Sarah Thacker explains why this may be. “Foods that help to improve mood work in conjunction with gut-brain connection. The digestive system is where an estimated 90 percent of serotonin — the feel-good neurotransmitter — is made, making it vital to have a healthy gut,” she says. Below, she shares her top six picks for uplifting foods so you can stay fueled and feelin’ good all day long.
1. Leafy Greens: Take a second look at the salad menu next time you’re out to eat; it’s brimming with mood-boosters. Spinach, kale, arugula, and even broccoli (sorry, iceberg) are considered members of this nutrient-rich category. “[These veggies] are loaded with nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and enzymes that are necessary for the body to function and create emotional regulation,” Thacker states. Plus, they’re all prebiotic foods, which means they feed the good gut bacteria.
2. Avocados: Millennials are on to something with their ‘cado craze. Thacker categorizes them as a “nutrient-dense super food” because of their healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, fibers, and enzymes. Spread this creamy treat on a piece of toast or slice it over a salad for a tasty way to improve your mood.
3. Blueberries: Don’t let their size fool you; these teeny fruits are “health powerhouses,” according to Thacker. They’re full of vitamins and minerals necessary for the body, but they also contain flavonoids, an antioxidant thought to improve mood regulation. Want to experience the benefits? Pop a handful of blueberries on your way out the door or toss some in your pre-work smoothie.
4. Cacao:Chocolate-lovers, rejoice! Your craving made the cut — but stick to the dark variety when indulging. Raw cacao, which can be purchased as a powder or found in dark chocolate, contains magnesium and antioxidants that are thought to reduce cortisol levels (which spike when you’re stressed), Thacker states, and this ultimately makes people feel more content.
5. Wild Salmon: Whoever said pink-dyed salmon is the new naturally pink salmon could not be more wrong, because it’s actually the fishes’ natural pink hue that leads to many of its health benefits. “Salmon feed on krill and shrimp, which contain a compound called astaxanthin, an antioxidant that helps to protect the nervous system, creating more good feelings,” Thacker says. This in conjunction with their omega-3s, which support a healthy brain, results in a killer combo.
6. Walnuts: We’re going nuts for walnuts. These nuggets of nutrition contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 precursor, and for this reason, also support brain health. And with a healthy brain comes emotional regulation. “They look like a brain for a reason,” Thacker jokes.
Thacker cautions though that, in the same way some foods boost your mood, others will bring it down. Unsurprisingly, these foods are those that are notoriously unhealthy; processed, fried, or sugary items can leave you feeling worse than you did at the start of the meal. “Eat real food, and your mood will thank you,” Thacker advises.
Do you feel better after biting into any of these selections? Let us know @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)