Yoga is not for him who overeats and also not for him who does not eat.
– Bhagavad-Gita VI. 16
When I read what it takes to be a successful blogger, I am told that it is important not to stray from your core message or area of expertise. Not to go ‘off piste’, as we’d say in skiing speak. The topic of food may not necessarily be associated with yoga, meditation, and all things holistic, nor with life in the corporate world, however on another level it is at the core of what I preach. For if one is to become a higher achiever in any chosen profession, then a ‘successful’ diet is a minimum.
In this regard, let ‘food be thy medicine’ is the modern battle cry as the world is slowly starting to realise that we are what we eat. The focus on eating a good diet and our health is even more in focus, especially when conventional theories relating to mood disorders arising because of ‘chemical imbalances’, are being challenged. More and more studies are now showing that a diet filled with processed vegetable fats, sugars, preservatives and a whole host of other additives is causing chronic levels of inflammation in the body, resulting in not just physical signs of disease such as heart conditions, diabetes and cancer but contributing to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
We also know that 90% of serotonin in the body and 50% of dopamine is produced in the gut. Both are essential neurotransmitters that are required for optimal brain function. In short, the gut acts like a second brain and the connection between the brain-gut axis is well known – feeding our gut with healthy food is therefore critical for a healthy mind.
Rachel Kelly, mental health campaigner, journalist and author of the book “The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food“, states that she suffered for years from anxiety and depression. She decided to visit a nutritional therapist and completely overhaul her diet. The result: a more energised, cheerful, less anxious, person with more clarity in her thinking as well as a much more balanced approach to eating (and a better sleeper too).
Rachel’s message is simple: whilst the world is getting better at making ‘lifestyle interventions’ for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease; when it comes to mental health and managing anxiety and depression, eating a balanced diet should also be seen as an essential first step in dealing with such conditions.
To this extent, not only is a balanced diet filled with cruciferous vegetables, lean and natural fats, complex carbohydrates, seeds and nuts important for our wellbeing, but there are actually a few foods that are known for lifting moods. Here I share my favourite ‘Happy Foods’.
1. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in phenethylamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which when released, elevates moods and feelings of wellbeing. It is claimed that eating 40g of dark chocolate a day lowers the level of stress hormone cortisol. It is also rich in magnesium, known to have a calming effect upon the body. Choose dark chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa solids.
Note: chocolate does contain sugar, so try not to go overboard on it when feeling completely stressed out (which may result in an insulin overload and blood-sugar crash). That’s my experience anyway.
Oats are well known for their calming effects upon the body. They are high in protein and as a complex carbohydrate, result in the release of long term energy for the body. They are also high in B vitamins, which are essential for the production of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like serotonin, as well as being rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and potassium which are all essential for a healthy nervous system. In addition, they are high in soluble fibre which aids in digestion. For me, oats work wonders.
3. Brazil Nuts
It is relatively well known that Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium, with only a handful a day resulting in the RDI being met. Selenium is known as a mood stabiliser directly affecting levels of anxiety and depression. Brazil nuts are also high in zinc, which is affected by chronic levels of stress and anxiety, as well as containing Omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential to reduce inflammation and lower levels of cholesterol in the body. They are also delicious. Sometimes I get more than my recommended RDI :-).
Ginger really is a super food in my opinion. It has fabulous digestive qualities as it lights the ‘digestive fire’, or ‘agni’ in yogi speak. It is little wonder that we get served ginger with our sushi, to help with digestion. I regularly take ‘trikatu‘ – an ayurvedic remedy with ginger powder in it prior to eating to warm my belly up, especially if I know I am going to have a heavy meal.
Ginger is rich in “Gingerol‘, a phytonutrient which has been demonstrated to reduce muscle pain by 25 per cent and ease tension-related headaches. It is also high in Vitamin B6, which is an essential pre-cursor to the production of serotonin.
Blueberries have been on my list of superfoods for a long time, and there is a good reason for it. They are rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanin, which lower blood pressure, soothe the nervous system and digestive tract as well as optimise brain function and blood sugar levels. They are also rich in Vitamins B and C, which are important in the fight against stress and blood cortisol levels and for healthy neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
There are many other foods that are known to be great for mental health including apricots, spinach and avocado. For carnivores, salmon and turkey are well known for their ‘food mood’ properties too. For those interested in finding out more, there is Rachel’s book which I referred to earlier. I also recommend the book “Eat Yourself Calm” by Gill Paul, which talks about these foods and a whole lot more, including recipes to integrate them into a weekly menu planner.
That being said, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s never one size fits all with nutrition, so if any of the above foods don’t agree with you, checking for intolerances is obviously a necessity.
That’s it folks. Happy eating. Literally.