We all know that food can play a massive role in our physical health, but there is also now significant evidence that suggests it plays a large part in our mental health as well. Here’s a quick rundown of seven foods to calm anxiety – ones you should definitely eat more of as a way to boost your mood and calm anxiety.
One of the key scientific factors behind using food to improve mental health is that certain foods help support neurotransmitters – or the “messengers” in the brain with control everything from mood to appetite, and energy levels. Among the most important neurotransmitters for mental health are serotonin, dopamine and endorphin.
Serotonin has been shown to regulate mood, appetite and sleep and is thought to contribute to an overall feeling of happiness. Dopamine is a chemical messenger involved in the pleasure centres of the brain. It allows us to feel pleasure but it also helps improve concentration and focus – things which can be negatively affected by anxiety and depression. And finally, endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals and help produce a feeling of euphoria.
A chemical imbalance caused by any or all of these leads to the body being unable to correctly regulate emotions.
So, without further ado here are seven foods you should add into your diet right now to help you boost your mood…
Omega-3 fats play an important role in brain health – which is unsurprising in part because our brains are mostly made up of fats. Omega-3 is essential to the optimal function of two areas of the brain which are involved in motivation and emotional regulation — the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens. Furthermore, studies have shown that omega-3s also work to reduce inflammation at a cellular level – which may help improve brain function.
Aim to eat salmon – or a similar oily fish – a couple of times a week in order to boost your intake of these essential fats.
Vitamin B12 is one of the most complex vitamins and one which is essential for healthy brain function. In fact, vitamin B12 deficiency can produce a range of symptoms including fatigue and depression. Vitamin B12 also promotes concentration, memory function and balances moods.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products. Salmon is not only a great source of omega-3s but vitamin B12 as well. However, another great source of vitamin B12 is eggs. In fact, one large egg contains about 19 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12.
3) Dark Chocolate
The benefits of dark chocolate are many – but don’t let that be an excuse to binge. Remember firstly that we are talking dark chocolate here, so put down the Dairy Milk! Chocolate can increase serotonin – for improving the mood – and reduce cortisol – the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. It also contains high levels magnesium, another great mineral for fighting anxiety as we will see in a minute. It also causes the brain to produce opiates – that’s right, a natural version of the drug known as opium! – which help increase feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Try adding a few squares of dark chocolate into your diet, once a week. But beware of milk chocolate, and avoid before bed since chocolate also contains some caffeine.
According to a study from 2012, “Chamomile may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity”. Chamomile has been shown to soothe and calm the system. In fact, it has been used in traditional and herbal medicines for thousands of years, and the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks all used chamomile for its many physical and mental benefits. Try having a cup if you are feeling particularly anxious, or incorporate it into a bedtime ritual to help you sleep.
Both Greek yogurt and live yogurt have great health benefits. Greek yogurt is a good source of protein which helps with the production of dopamine. Furthermore, a US study has shown that stress and anxiety can be linked to gut imbalances. According to this study, gut bacteria “communicate” with the brain via the vagus nerve. Therefore, adding probiotics (“good” gut bacteria) into your diet can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Live yogurt or special probiotic yogurts can, therefore, help promote both gut health and mental health.
6) Pumpkin seeds
The mineral magnesium plays an important role in brain and body function. Magnesium works in the regulation of the stress response and helps convert tryptophan, an amino acid, into serotonin. Furthermore, anxiety and stress actually use up your reserves of magnesium, so upping your consumption of this mineral is a win-win scenario.
Just half a cup of pumpkin seeds gives you your entire daily allowance of magnesium. And, in fact, pumpkin seeds also provide you with the amino acid, tryptophan, which the body uses to produce serotonin.
As I have already mentioned, serotonin is vital for regulating our mood. Higher levels of serotonin are usually associated with improved mood. One factor key to the regulation of serotonin is folate. In fact, studies going as far back as the 1960s have shown links between folate deficiency and depression. One of the best sources of folate is lentils, plus it’s a great source of tryptophan. So, get your lentils on!