#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth is still going strong, so this week I’m sharing one of my favorite ways to influence mood — FOOD.
Read on for more info on how food plays an indisputable role in your cognitive function and overall health, as well as my favorite good mood foods and delicious recipe ideas.
With anxiety disorders becoming the most common mental illness in the United States (affecting 40 million adults) and 1 in 10 adults in the US currently taking an anti-depressant, mental health is becoming a topic we can no longer ignore.
So why the steady rise in cognitive decline?
Due to our bodies consistent exposure to inflammatory foods, alcohol, tobacco, medications and foreign substances such as drugs, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals, our natural detoxification systems become overwhelmed, causing unhealthy metabolites to accumulate and ultimately trigger mitochondrial dysfunction, metabolic deficiencies, immunotoxicity, and neuroinflammation (also known as inflammation in the brain).
As a result, the body’s energy is diverted and metabolically active organs such as the brain, the heart, and the muscles start to suffer. It is then we start to feel unwell and experience chronic fatigue, weakness, slow processing, anxiety, depression, inability to cope with stressors and other cognitive difficulties.
So how do we combat this? Fixing your brain starts with fixing your body: optimizing all the inputs and taking out the bad influences. The brain is resilient and can recover and heal when given the right support, primarily from the nutrients provided in the food you eat.
According to Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist recognized internationally as a leader in the field of neurological research and disorders, your food choices are the most influential variable you can control that relates to the health, vitality, and functionality of your precious brain.
In fact, the function and health of our brains are incredibly influenced by the state of health in our gut bacteria. This is know as the gut-brain axis (GBA), a two-way street of communication between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS) via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is lined with more than 100 million nerve cells that link the emotional and mental centers of the brain to our digestive system and intestinal functions, creating what we call the Gut-Brain Connection.
Emerging research continues to show us how the gut directly influences human physiology, metabolism, and immune function.
So what are these top foods and how do we make them easy and delicious to regularly consume so that our brains are actually benefiting? Let’s break it down.
60% of your brain is made up of fat, specifically DHA, an omega-3 fat that plays a pivotal role in maintaining the health and stimulating the growth of brain cells in the brain’s memory center.
It’s also made up of EPA, the secondary omega-3. Both of these fats are critical for supporting brain function and mood, regulating metabolism and preventing diabetes and inflammation.
Here are the best sources:
A terrific, low-mercury option rich in DHA linked to depression prevention.
These oils are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds that can help improve the gut microbiome composition , impacting the gut-brain axis and improve mental health.
Rich in butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid that promotes a healthy gut microbiome and shown to decrease anxiety.
Where do I even begin? Truly an impactful option, nuts and seeds like pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, etc. are loaded with antioxidants that protects brain cells from damage, fiber that feeds your gut flora and vitamins that support feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and melatonin.
Rich in choline, the precursor chemical for acetylcholine, a fundamental neurotransmitter. Eggs also contain cholesterol, a crucial component of brain cell membranes as well as serving the brain as a protective antioxidant.
High in monounsaturated fats shown to protect brain cells.
These colorful superfoods are loaded with phytonutrients that contain powerful anti-inflammatory, detoxifying antioxidants and energy-boosting, brain-powering molecules. They’re also rich in fiber, which binds to toxins to keep them moving OUT of your body and feeds the good bacteria in your gut, which communicates directly with your brain via the vagus nerve, regulating anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
Many of these plants also contain a specific type of fiber called prebiotic fiber, which feeds a group of bacteria that control the rate of gene expression in the brain, including the secretion of BDNF, a very important signal that increases neural connections, facilitates learning as well as short-term and long-term memory.
Greens like spinach, kale, arugula, dandelion, swiss chard, etc. are rich in vitamin C, which plays an important role in brain and nerve cell development. Vitamin C also gets depleted when we’re stressed, so it’s even more important to add it in when we’re dealing with mental health challenges.
Wild, organic blueberries have one of the highest concentrations of brain-protecting and inflammation reducing antioxidants.
Beets contain betaine, which helps the brain form natural antidepressants such as serotonin, a chemical in the body that regulates our mood.
Rich in prebiotic fiber and nutrients like folate, which lowers inflammation in the brain (inflammation has been directly linked to anxiety and depression).
Cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, etc. contain sulforaphane, which has been found to produce anti-depressant and anti-anxiety chemicals in the body.
Fermented foods such as kimchee, miso, coconut yogurt, beet kvass, etc. are loaded with probiotics that help to repopulate the good microflora in your gut, directly affecting your anxiety and overall cognition.
These ingredients are powerful brain + mood boosters and anxiety + stress reducers due to their high-quality antioxidant makeup (which combat brain-damaging free radicals).
YAAAS BAE! Another reason to enjoy your morning cuppa, coffee activates our Nrf2 pathways, helping to fight off oxidative stress and protect against inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. Keep in mind coffee also contains caffeine, which can be difficult to metabolize and trigger anxiety for some. If this is you try replacing coffee with another soothing, antioxidant-rich beverage such as the red velvet latte below.
Rich in powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that boost blood brain flow, as well as magnesium, an “anti-stress” mineral that promotes calm, muscle relaxation and optimal sleep.
A good majority of brain problems (including mood disorders, depression, anxiety, brain fog, etc.) are directly linked to inflammation. Turmeric is rich in powerful anti-oxidants like curcumin, which turns on the parts of our DNA that help reduce inflammation.
CBD contains active compounds called cannabinoids that interact with our endocannabinoid system (aka almost every system in our bodies) helping to balance and regulate everything from our neurotransmitter and mitochondrial function to inflammation and metabolism. I use CBD sourced from hemp, which contains very low levels of THC (under 0.3%) so I get the amazing anti-inflammatory and stress + anxiety-reducing properties of cannabis without the high.
Read this post to get the full scoop on CBD (as well as what you need to look for in brands before purchasing). I love the brand Soul Addict and you can use my code sa_lauren20 to save 20% off your first purchase.
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that help balance, restore and protect your body. Just like cannabinoids, they work to normalize your physiological functions and bring homeostasis to the body and brain (aka they “adapt” to your unique needs).
I like Rhodiola Rosea, which helps to balance cortisol output (i.e. your stress hormone) and Lion’s Mane, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-boosting abilities shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
I mentioned some of my favorite mental-health boosting supplements in last week’s blog post, and will continue to reference more in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
The theory of neuroplasticity has proven an incredible fact — our brains CAN change. This means if you’re struggling with mood disorders, anxiety, stress or overall cognitive function you have the opportunity to change your mental state!
By incorporating more healthy foods you have the power to cultivate more joy and positivity, effective coping mechanisms, optimal decision making skills, higher performance and the ability to feel your best, so you can show up and do your best work in the world.
It doesn’t get more powerful than that!
This creamy + dreamy red velvet latte is loaded with mood-boosting + stress-reducing ingredients to help you instantly feel more at peace.
Author: Lauren Chambers
Recipe Type: beverage, snack
For the Pistachio Milk:
For the Red Velvet Latte:
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.