Our mental health is affected by what we eat. With a bit of practice, it is easy to recognize the foods that lift or lower our mood. That case of the passing blues may have been exacerbated by excess sugar intake, like eating chocolate cake two days in a row with soda at meal times. The same is true for lifted spirits; eating lean protein, healthy fats, and fresh veggies can boost the chemicals that help us to feel well and at ease.
We all have the skills to transform our mental health through what we eat by learning essential tips for everyday practicality.
Start Your Day With A Tasty Breakfast
What we eat in the morning can spell out our mood for the rest of the day. Research verifies that eating protein with breakfast increases energy levels and boosts mood, concentration, and mental clarity by preventing a sugar crash.
Pay attention to how you feel after eating a sugary breakfast, like pancakes with syrup and fruit. Do you feel sluggish, does your concentration wane, and does your mood feel heavier and less optimistic?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, try a breakfast of eggs scrambled with spinach, a slice of toast, and a handful of fresh berries. The eggs provide protein and healthy fats, while the toast gives us fuel, and the berries offer antioxidants and a gentle blood sugar boost. Make sure you like what you eat in the morning, and add your favorite protein to the plate.
Explore New Cultures By Trying Their Food
A surprising by-product of exploring the cuisine of cultures we are unfamiliar with is how the food can notably affect how we feel physically and mentally. Eating a rich meal makes many people feel both satisfied and tired and maybe a little cranky several hours later.
However, specific cuisines don’t have quite the same effect on the body. Take Indian food, for example, with its abundance of spices, many of which are anti-inflammatory and can lift the spirits. Spicy food has the same effect: it causes the brain to release serotonin, the happiness chemical.
Japanese cuisines are an excellent balance of light meals with a hint of richness. Japanese kani salad is a creamy mix of shredded crab stick with mayo and is frequently served in small portions or as a garnish.
The touch of rich kani makes the meal light while adding fat flavor and a full tummy.
Incorporate Dark Leafy Greens and Vegetables
Leafy greens and fresh vegetables keep the body alkaline, which may lower inflammation and prevent a negative impact on our mood. Try a salad of lettuce, kale, spinach, and arugula to help your body keep balanced pH. It’s also a great idea to sneak a veggie into every meal; try a fruit and kale smoothie with breakfast, a salad with grilled chicken for lunch, and roasted summer squash and asparagus with dinner.
Documenting how you feel after eating cooked and fresh greens is a great way to decide just how many green veggies your body needs to feel balanced. In addition, adding more vegetables means your body has a greater intake of fiber and minerals.
The biggest mood culprit is sugar, which can be hard to escape as sugar is found in most packaged foods, not just desserts. While this does not mean you must give up sugar, reducing the amount you eat benefits mental health. Get savvy with the time of day you eat dessert and try having that cup of ice cream with cookies before going on a long walk. Exercise will help burn off the sugars, and movement will boost endorphins.
Moderation is the key, and natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar may have milder effects on the mood than processed cane or beet sugar. All white and brown sugar come from these sources. Still, their impact is far more favorable on the mood than processed cane beet sugar.
Get Enough Protein
Pay attention to how much protein your body needs. Some of us need more while others need less. Getting enough protein is an essential tip for brain health, energy, concentration, and a joyful sense of happiness and vitality. You may feel best with mostly plant-based proteins like nuts, legumes, certain vegetables, and just a little bit of eggs, fish, and dairy. Or frequent portions of beef may be the key for you.
Not enough protein doesn’t provide the body with nutrients needed for the brain to release feel-good chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin. A lack of protein can exacerbate anxiety and some other mood disorders. Aim for 15-30 grams of protein at each meal; this looks like wheat toast with a quarter of an avocado, three ounces of smoked salmon, and one fried egg.
Food Sensitivities and Mood
Pay attention to how you feel after eating gluten, dairy, and high acidity foods like smoked meats, pickled foods, sugary items, and cooked tomatoes. If certain foods have you feeling off, such as stomach pain from gluten or itchiness from an intolerance, it may also affect your mood. If any items cause you to feel unwell, it is worth taking a break and reintroducing the given food item back into your diet at another time. Sometimes a break helps the body reset, and we can once again eat the thing we needed to eliminate. After all, why deny yourself a delicious croissant or slice of cheese if the trigger ingredient becomes compatible with you again.
While our food choices may not be the absolute cure-all, they play a massive role in our mental health. We have the power to change our mood, and small steps do offer positive long-term improvement. Remember to eat balanced meals, plenty of green vegetables, proper amounts of protein, and limit processed foods and sugars. Also, start your day with food that fuels your body and mind. When you eat and what you eat will be worth the effort in mental well-being.
Melody Miller is a writer at Perkchops. She earned her writing degree from Warren Wilson college and focuses on non-fiction, food, and the human experience. Melody spends her free time learning artistic speech formation, and going on hikes.