Do you ever go through patches when you feel a bit blah? We’ve all been there.
The good news is that happiness is within your reach right now. It is totally possible to boost your sense of well-being with the right kind of soul-nurturing foods, you just need to know which ones to put in your shopping cart.
We’ve all heard the saying ‘Eat your greens!’. Well, when it comes to feeling good, there is nothing better. Dark green veggies, such as collard greens and spinach, are a rich source of vitamin C and magnesium.
These are both important in converting tryptophan and tyrosine amino acids to serotonin and dopamine – the neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel joyful. A good dose of greens every day is therefore a must!
The power of nuts and seeds can never be underestimated. While flax/chia/hemp/pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great sources of mood-boosting omega-3s, cashews have been shown to provide the equivalent effects as a therapeutic dose of Prozac.
One of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, a couple of handfuls of cashews a day can keep the blues at bay. And let’s not forget the king of nuts – almonds, which contain zinc (a major nutrient in maintaining a balanced mood), iron (which curtails brain fatigue) and healthy fats (which reduce anxiety).
With blueberries considered a superfood, these little round bites of sweetness are excellent at relieving angst. Rich in vitamins, phytonutrients (plant nutrients) and a variety of stress-reducing antioxidants, blueberries are the perfect snack to help activate happy messages in the brain. And, it’s not just blueberries. Acai berries are also rich in phytonutrients, with antioxidant levels through the roof!
It’s no secret that eating high quality dark chocolate makes you feel good, right? That is because your body harnesses the benefits of cacao – the raw ingredient that gives good chocolate its taste and color. Renowned for promoting well-being, cacao contains phenylethylamine (the same chemical generated by the brain when falling in love), causing the release of endorphins. What a great excuse to indulge!
Low levels of B group vitamins (B1, B3, B6, B9, B12) have been shown to contribute to low mood. A strong continued source of B vitamins is therefore essential for prolonged happiness.
Such foods rich in B vitamins include legumes, nuts, seeds, brown rice, oats, dark green veggies (such as spinach and broccoli), and nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 is found in organic animal products (fish and organic dairy), but can also be derived from a high-quality vitamin B-complex supplement, or in spirulina (see below).
The gut is one of the first indicators of health. In fact, most of the body’s serotonin (which is responsible for making you feel happy) is produced in the gut, not the brain. Consequently, the gut and the brain (and how you feel) are intrinsically linked.
It is therefore important to nurture the intestines, providing them with a plethora of ‘good bacteria’ to help them function to their utmost ability. Fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and drinks like water kefir, coconut kefir and kombucha, are awesome at this, as they feed the healthy bacteria in the digestive system.
A concentrated source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (the darlings of brain health) is a must-have good mood meal. High in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), enabling membrane fluidity in the brain to allow maximum neurotransmitter function, wild fish, such as salmon or rainbow trout, are key players in amplifying happiness and pleasure.
With omega-3s great at reducing inflammation in the body (one of the major causes of mood disorders), the essential fatty acids of wild fish are known to brighten mood and improve cognitive function. Ideally, three servings of wild fatty fish should be consumed each week in order to experience its benefits. Alternatively, a supplement, like krill oil, can work just as well. Other plant-based sources of healthy fats include seeds and unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil.
My go-to power pack snack, bananas are a neat way to put the zing back in your zang. Full of energy, vitamin B6, tryptophan, iron, magnesium and potassium, plus being a natural probiotic, high in fiber, and a regulator of blood sugar, bananas are the bomb! In fact, eating one banana as a mid-morning snack will fuel the body with enough magnesium (a stress-reducer) for the entire day!
Boosting vitamin D can improve mood by enhancing the production of the happy hormone, serotonin. Synthesized by the body in response to sunlight, vitamin D can be found in foods such as oily fish, coconut milk, almond milk and mushrooms. It can be worth taking a high quality vitamin D3 supplement throughout winter.
Complex carbohydrates such as chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats, brown rice, potatoes, sweet corn, wholegrain cereals, bananas and starchy vegetables have been shown to encourage the production of serotonin, and promote leveled well-being (unlike simple carbohydrates which are known to induce mood swings).
Purchased as a powder, maca root has been used as a stress reliever since ancient times by the elite class of the Peruvian Incas. Rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, and potassium, it is also a good source of trace minerals such as magnesium and iron (two important nutrients for controlling anxiety), zinc, iodine, and vitamins B1, B2, C and E.
Spirulina is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! A supergreen equivalent of a multi-vitamin, spirulina is 60-70 percent protein and high in iron, B vitamins (notably B12, which is rare in plant foods), tryptophan and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. And as if that is not enough, spirulina also contains calcium, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K and antioxidants. On a biochemical level, spirulina is happiness hothouse!