It is no secret that depression and anxiety affect a large portion of the population. Mental health issues continue to rise, making these individuals feel helpless and alone. There’s a handful of medications for any condition, which are being handed out like candy. These anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, can produce a number of side-effects and actually increase feelings of anxiety and depression once administration is discontinued. Many have lost the connection with one of the most powerful tools and medications that we have: nutrition. We are a society that is living off of caffeine, processed ingredients, and refined foods. When we think of foods that have a high sugar and fat content, we generally think that we’re harming our heart, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. However, there is another organ that begs for proper nutrition. The organ that is responsible for your every moment, thought, and bodily function. Our brain relies on the foods we consume, and lack of nutrition has a large part to play in a variety of mental health conditions.
Depression, Anxiety, and Our Brain
Depression and anxiety are highly complex, as each situation varies from person to person. However, a large factor is our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are found within the brain, allowing neurons to communicate with one another. There are a number of neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood, but the most common are dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine. When individuals suffer from anxiety or depression, there is typically an imbalance of these neurotransmitters.
Ten Foods that Decrease Feelings of Anxiety and Depression
When we feel sad, we reach for a tub of ice cream. Our ‘comfort foods,’ are highly skewed. In order to feel better, we should be reaching for foods that are nutrient-rich. Shoveling in simple carbohydrates, refined sugars, and caffeine, will only worsen your mood. We should be consuming foods that offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants. The following ten foods will not only give your brain a boost, but will improve your overall health.
1. Whole Grains
Carbohydrates have been deemed the enemy by many weight-loss diets. The reality is, we need carbohydrates, especially for optimal brain function. Whole grains have been shown to reduce mood swings, depression, and anxiety. Many whole grains contain high levels of tryptophan. This amino acid is crucial for the synthesis of serotonin, as well as melatonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin, is known to lift mood and relax the body. Melatonin is responsible for our sleep cycles, which is vital for our mental health. They are also amazing for energy, reducing fatigue. This helps counteract some of the core symptoms of depression and anxiety, ensuring that your blood sugar is stable. Incorporate some of the following whole grains into your daily diet; barley, buckwheat, rye, wild and brown rice, quinoa, and millet.
2. Dark Chocolate
Yes, that’s correct, chocolate. However, I’m not talking about your average gas station chocolate bar. Dark chocolate is highly beneficial for your brain health. The darker and purer the chocolate, the better. Dark chocolate contains tyrosine, which is linked to an increase of dopamine. Dopamine has a direct effect on our emotional well-being, and stimulates the pleasure centers in our brain. Dark chocolate also releases endorphins, allowing you to feel a sense of happiness. In terms of anxiety, dark chocolate reduces cortisol levels. This is the hormone that makes us feel stressed. Time to get your chocolate fix!
Blueberries provide so many benefits, so it’s no surprise that they are considered a ‘superfood.’ They are high in antioxidants, while help reduce levels of stress and anxiety. They are also packed with vitamin C, which helps lower cortisol. Besides being packed with nutrients, blueberries are 85% water. Water is essential for optimal brain function. When you become dehydrated, you’re at risk for poor mood and increased anxiety.
Nuts are an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and protein. All of these are crucial for healthy brain function. The omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. As mentioned, tryptophan is essential for the synthesis of serotonin. Walnuts are packed with tryptophan, indirectly increasing serotonin levels. When these levels rise, we feel more relaxed, calm, and happy.
Although many believe avocado is a vegetable, it’s actually a fruit. Avocados are an excellent source of tryptophan, boosting relaxation. It is believed that cell death may trigger depression. The omega-3 fatty acids found in avocado are believed to reduce this cell death. Avocado is also high in protein, which triggers dopamine production. When individuals experience depression, they are believed to have a vitamin B-6 deficiency. If you are below the age of 50, you should be consuming approximately 1.3 mg of this vitamin daily. Once you get older, this value increases to around 1.5 mg for women and 1.7 mg for men. One cup of avocado will provide you with 0.4 mg. Eat this delicious fruit with chicken and you’ll boost your intake.
Dark leafy greens are highly beneficial for your overall health. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals, making them a great accompaniment to any meal. Spinach contains high levels of magnesium, which is one of the best minerals for anxiety. This is because it helps to maintain your cortisol levels. One cup provides you with 40% of your daily intake. Spinach is also high in vitamin C, which is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. Spinach is also high in tryptophan, making it an excellent ‘feel good’ food. Once again, depression is linked to a deficiency in B vitamins. Spinach is high in folate, vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6.
Fish is referred to as ‘brain food,’ so it’s no surprise that it can reduce anxiety and improve mood. Although it is known to boost cognitive function, fish is also believed to help with mood disorders. Fish has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Low levels of essential fatty acids, have been linked to feelings of depression. Fish is also another source of tryptophan.
Chickpeas are protein powerhouses, providing many benefits for your brain and overall health. These beans contain vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is directly related to both mood and increased cognitive function. Cognitive functioning, such as lack of motivation, focus, and attention tend to be symptoms of depression and anxiety. Vitamin B1 increases brain health overall. It also contains tryptophan, which promotes serotonin, improving mood and increasing one’s ability to sleep.
9. Greek Yogurt
This diary source is known to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Feelings of anxiety are often linked to blood sugar levels dropping. Like whole grains, Greek yogurt is a sustainable energy source. This yogurt is also a great source of protein, which helps produce the neurotransmitter dopamine and norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for your ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. This is how well your body reacts to stress. It is also linked to improved mood, as it is closely related to dopamine. Both of these are generally found in tricyclic antidepressant medications.
Like many in this list, eggs are also high in B vitamins. These vitamins are essential for reducing the severity of depression symptoms. Although some avoid the yolk, this is where all the nutrients are found. Eggs are also high in protein, boosting neurotransmitter levels. Basically, consume a balanced diet full of whole foods. You can also lift your mood by exercising and getting adequate amounts of sleep. If you’re good to your brain and body, it will treat you well in return. So, pack in those nutrient-dense foods; you can eat your way to a happier and healthier you!