‘You are what you eat’ is a phrase we’ve all heard, but did you know that there’s also a scientific link between what you eat and your mood? Certain foods influence our brain chemistry and help us to stay happier and calm.
For help on what we should eat to beat depression, we turned to Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D., the author of Eat Your Way to Happiness and Food and Mood. She is nationally recognized nutritionist who is on the advisory board for Shape magazine and is a frequent guest on the Today Show and Dr. Oz.
Depression Diet: What to Eat to Boost Your Mood
1. Dark Green Leafies
From spinach, chard, and collards to Sweet Ruby Red lettuce and broccoli, these are the very best sources of the B vitamin, folate. Your brain cells won’t turn on without it. It’s no wonder that poor intake of folate increases the risk for depression, fatigue, poor memory, and possibly even more serious mental problems like schizophrenia. Greens also are rich in lutein, which shows promise in improving memory.
How to use: Replace head lettuce in salads and sandwiches with leaf lettuce or spinach, layer greens into lasagna, use large spinach leaves instead of a tortilla to wrap around cheese, beans, and salsa. Lightly steam chopped collards and mix into mashed potatoes.
We all know that beans are mind-boggling good for you. Whether they are lentils, chick peas, split peas, or black, kidney, navy, or pinto beans, legumes are packed with nutrients that improve mood, such as folate, calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc. The folate in beans protects against a memory-destroying compound called homocysteine. The antioxidant phytonutrients in legumes, such as saponins and phytosterols, lower cancer and heart disease risk. Their massive antioxidant content explains why their ORAC scores are so high: a cup of beans has between 4,000 and 13,000 ORAC points!
3. Wheat Germ
The heart of the wheat kernel is a gold mine of nutrition. Half a cup of toasted wheat germ supplies 100% of your daily need for folic acid and 50% of your magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E requirements. Vitamin E-rich diets help prevent and slow the progression and might even lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70%. Wheat germ also supplies decent amounts of trace minerals, such as iron and zinc.
How to use: Sprinkle on oatmeal or yogurt, add to cookie and pancake batters, mix into bread, muffin, or meatloaf recipes, or blend with honey and peanut butter for a sandwich spread.
Berries are loaded with B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants, such as the flavonoids, resveratrol, and more than 40 different anthocyanins. In fact, a cup of berries adds anywhere from 6,000 to 13,000 ORAC points to the daily diet. These potent antioxidants strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to memory loss, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimers. The antioxidants in berries might even help reverse memory loss.
How to use: Switch from ice cream to frozen blueberries for an after-dinner snack, blend into smoothies, add to homemade salsa, dip strawberries in fat-free chocolate syrup, layer with yogurt for a parfait, add to tossed salads or muffin and pancake batters.
Salmon is high in protein, B vitamins, potassium to keep the heart pumping in rhythm, and astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant. The omega-3s in fatty fish, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), improve mood, sharpen the mind, keep blood vessels squeaky clean, reduce inflammation, and lower the chances of getting depression, attention deficit, dementia, and a host of other ills.
How to use: Grill, bake, broil, or poach. Make a sandwich spread with canned salmon, fat-free mayonnaise, diced celery, and herbs. Have lox and bagels (use fat-free cream cheese).
What better way to improve health – physically, mentally, and sexually – than to nibble on sweet and juicy, chin-dribbling watermelon?! Watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, a red pigment that lowers heart disease and heart attack risk. In fact, watermelon has more lycopene than do tomatoes – up to 20 milligrams in each two-cup serving. The lycopene in watermelon helps lower risk for inflammation,. Watermelon also is low or free of cholesterol, fat, and sodium, and is a good source of arginine and citrulline, amino acids that maintain the blood vessels, increase nitric oxide, and improve blood flow to all tissues.
How to use: Bag slices and cubes of watermelon and place in a gym bag, briefcase, or purse before leaving home. Toss in salads, salsas, and smoothies. Top yogurt with watermelon cubes. Blend watermelon and Splenda and freeze for a homemade sorbet. Puree watermelon, sweeten with concentrated apple juice, freeze into ice cubes or pops, then add cubes to club soda for a refreshing drink.
7. Citrus Fruits
Mood-wise, vitamin C is important in boosting energy, since it helps absorb iron and maintain healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to every cell in the body, including the brain. Without iron, your brain literally suffocates, leaving you groggy, depressed, too pooped to appreciate life and totally unmotivated. People even report they feel calmer during stress when they consume enough vitamin C.
Even a small serving of deep-orange vegetables supplies five times the Daily Value for beta-carotene, an antioxidant that protects the brain from damage. The more richly colored vegetables you eat, the more brain protection you get. Bright orange veggies also supply hefty amounts of vitamin C, potassium and iron and more fiber than a slice of whole-wheat bread or a bowl of oatmeal.