Our mood is affected by neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain), and food has a great ability to replenish or deplete those neurotransmitters. We choose certain foods when we are sad, depressed, or anxious – and there is evidence that chemicals play a role in these cravings.
Many of us opt for sugar, alcohol, and caffeine for a temporary lift or relief. However, there are foods we can use as medicine that will help to build and balance the brain and positively affect our brain’s neurotransmitters in a lasting way. I urge you to incorporate some of the following foods into your diet in higher amounts during times of mental/emotional imbalance or abnormal fatigue.
Dark chocolate — In one study, daily consumption of 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate reduced stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in the brain after two weeks. It also improved metabolism. Raw cacao is the best form of chocolate.
Omega-3s such as flaxseed, walnuts, tuna, herring, mackerel, chia seeds, salmon – The omega-3 fatty acids in some fish have been found to help ward off depression. They do this by increasing gray matter in three areas of the brain that tend to be smaller in people experiencing serious depression. They also help keep brain arteries clear of plaque and protect against memory impairment.
Organic lean chicken and turkey breast help boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrene (brain chemicals that help elevate mood and make you feel more alert).
Lentils are high in folic acid, an essential B vitamin. In one study, low folic acid was detectable in depressed members of the general U.S. population. Lentils are a great source of folate as well as cooked spinach, asparagus, avocados, and oranges.
Raw Brazil nuts contain selenium, a trace element. Low levels of selenium have been associated with higher incidence of depression.
Whey protein in dairy (preferably from grass-fed cows) – A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that whey consumption leads to greater production of the brain chemical serotonin and boosts mood. Whey also has the potential to enhance brain performance during times of stress, making us more alert and less frazzled.
Avocado is loaded with Vitamin E, which may help reduce cognitive (mental) delay in the elderly and improve coordination and balance. One large study found that it also helps to decrease oxidative stress, a main culprit in brain-related diseases.
Curcumin, (the active ingredient of turmeric) may help the brain by protecting against Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. A major study found that turmeric helps to break apart a substance in the brain which causes plaque buildup, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
Organic strawberries, blueberries, and spinach are very rich in antioxidants. A study in The Journal of Neuroscience found that rats that were fed strawberry and spinach extracts had less cognitive decline than rats fed “regular” rat feed.
Mixed raw nuts and seeds contain not only healthy fats that help blood flow but also magnesium which aids in communication between brain cells.
Pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed beef are great sources of Vitamin B-12 as well as other key brain foods like choline and inositol. The B vitamins in general help prevent the buildup of homocysteine (an amino acid that can lead to heart trouble and memory loss).
Food can provide so much more than fuel. It heals us, it gives us energy, and it allows us to do everything from swinging a bat and taking a shower to driving our cars. Our day-to-day actions are all controlled by our brain. Isn’t it time we truly fed it the right foods?