It is no great secret that what we put into our bodies affects our overall well-being, from brain health to our ability to fight infection, heart health, weight management and even physical performance. But, did you know that there are specific food factors that can lead you to your happy place and let you live there for all eternity? Of course, everyone wears cranky pants occasionally, but wouldn't it be nice to sport them much less often? Below is a list of nutrients and vitamins and some foods you can find them in that are known to improve your mood and keep your blues at bay.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This is probably old news to many people, as omega-3s have been making headlines for years already. What you may not know, however, is where to find some, apart from in a bottle. These fatty acids that support healthy brain function are readily available in salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, rainbow trout, and chia seeds. If fish is not your friend, start a relationship with the chia. It's a tiny yet nutrient-dense seed you can toss on a salad, into a smoothie, or on top of your yogurt. If you put them into liquid, they swell and get soft and slimy...in a good way.
A macro-mineral, magnesium is needed for the development of serotonin (the happy chemical your body produces naturally). Magnesium also regulates your bowels and helps you sleep, so let's be thankful it is so easy to add to our diet. Some common high mag foods are almonds, cashews, peanuts, edamame, and spinach.
Most people usually think of turkey when they think of tryptophan. Turns out, though, it is readily available in beef, eggs, and dark, leafy greens as well. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin. Without tryptophan, the production of our happy neurotransmitter slows dramatically, and that is never a good thing.
Folate plays an important role in the regulation of serotonin. It can be found in avocado, asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, black-eyed peas, kidney beans (think chili), and oranges.
Vitamins B6 and B12
Did you know that these two gems are effective in treating PMS? They helps in the production of key neurotransmitters for healthy brain function. The best sources for B6 are tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, spinach, and bananas. For B12, add shellfish, milk, and Swiss cheese to the list.
It sounds like some sort of badass metal, but in reality it's a metallic element that we need in very small amounts to help metabolize food. It regulates blood sugar levels and increases serotonin levels in the brain. You can find chromium in whole grains, broccoli, nuts, and egg yolks.
That's right: SUNSHINE! Sadly, in many parts of the country, sunlight becomes less available during the fall and winter months. Yet, it is so important when it comes to keeping our spirits lifted. The job of this vitamin, in addition to regulating cell growth, is simply to keep our mood in check. So, if there's no sun to be had, don't fret. Vitamin D is readily available in milk and other dairy products, fortified cereals, and, once again, salmon.
Studies show that even mild dehydration (one to two percent of your body weight) results in impaired mood, increased feelings of anxiety, and fatigue, not to mention headaches and body aches. Who feels happy when their head hurts? Drink up, and keep it clean. Not all liquids are created equal!
This probably seems fairly obvious, as coffee is enjoyed as a part of many peoples’ morning rituals, but that caffeine boost can really do some work as a mild antidepressant!
Dark chocolate (65 percent or more cocoa content) specifically positively affects the levels of brain endorphins (more happy chemicals). As if we needed another reason to love the stuff!
I know it's not always easy to fuel your body with the perfect foods every day. It helps, though, if you keep a little cheat sheet in the back of your brain to guide you to make the right choices when they are available. Some foods show up repeatedly in various capacities of healthfulness. Those are the easy targets: salmon, dark, leafy greens, broccoli, nuts, seeds, and fruit. Always think clean and fresh and whole. The more a food is changed from its raw, natural state, the less it has to offer. For the finicky eater, there are plenty of supplements out there as well.
So long, cranky pants. Hello happy you!