I've said over and over that food is medicine and there are some foods that are proven to impact your brain and mood. The brain chemical, serotonin, which regulates mood has a strong gut connection. Only 5% of serotonin is made in the brain. The rest is made, stored and active in the gut according to Dr. Naidoo, author of the book, "This is Your Brain on Food."
So what foods can positively affect your mood? If you said "comfort food: (ice-cream, pizza, fats, sugar salt and carbs) you would be wrong. Studies show that these foods make no difference in enhancing a persons mood and actually worsen depression. A four year study of more than 10,000 university students in Spain showed that students who followed a Mediterranean diet were at lower risk for depression. Another study from Australia found higher fruit and vegetable intake predicted increased happiness, life satisfaction and well being.
Minerals such as zinc, selenium and magnesium provide the function for cell activity and Iron, folate and vitamin B12 help your body produce serotonin. You get these substances from plants. Seafood also provides omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain health as well as B12, selenium, iron, zinc and protein. If you don't eat fish, chia seeds, flax seeds and sea vegetables are good sources of omega-3.
Chia seeds actually need a page of their own. Does anyone remember Chia Pets? I loved them but never knew the the seeds were nutritional powerhouses. They re high in fatty acids with a very high level of Omega-3, aka alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Foods high in ALA reduce heart disease. One serving of chia seeds has more than twice the recommended amount of ALA. But wait...thats not all.
Chia seeds are high in fiber, encourage healthy bowels and make you feel fuller longer. They contain several potent antioxidants which break down free radicals that damage cells. They are gluten free and can be sprinkled on cereals, salads, baking and used in smoothies.
Chia seeds were offered as food for the gods in Aztec culture.
Other brain foods include leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables (see how many you can name....answer at the bottom of the page). Nuts, beans and seeds including almonds, walnuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds should be a daily food source. Why don't we see ads on children's iPads and TV that say "Have you had your nuts today?"
There is proven value in eating fermented foods with microorganisms and yeasts. Remember we are feeding the gut to feed the brain neurotransmitters. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, Kombucha, Kim-chee, miso, cottage cheese, gouda cheese and apple-cider vinegar all count. As little as one tablespoon a day of these foods act as prebiotics (prebiotics are foods that change the gut microbiome to healthy).
It's not that hard to feed the brain but it does take some conscious effort when shopping and planning meals. Eating out often causes unhealthy choices but almost every menu has "sides" that can be ordered to get the broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and grains in with every meal. Look for those "sides".
Colorful fruits and vegetables: Peppers, broccoli, eggplant ,blueberries, avocados, sweet potatoes, kale, greens, apples,spinach...and lots more.