Need a pick-me-up? Happiness may be just a mouthful of “feel-good” food away
by Tamsyn Bouwer
You are what you eat. And feeling super good requires eating right all the time. By eating the right mood-enhancing foods you can improve your quality of sleep, reduce the risk of depression and boost your energy levels, making you able to easily handle anything life throws at you. Here are our top picks of mood-enhancing foods that you should be eating every day to keep your body evenly balanced.
Nuts about legumes and seeds
Legumes – lentils, peas, beans and nuts – and seeds are high in selenium, a mineral trace element important for metabolism and cellular function. It helps decrease the symptoms of depression and irritability, and reduces anxiety. One of the best sources of selenium is the humble Brazil nut. Just three Brazil nuts daily will give you the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium. Eat whole as a snack or sprinkle chopped nuts on salads.
Walnuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, while pistachios are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin E – powerful antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals.
Lentils are great at reducing anxiety; these complex carbohydrates assist in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that induces a calmer, less anxious state of mind. And they contain high levels of folate (a form of B vitamin important for cell growth) and help boost the body’s iron levels. Add ½ cup of lentils to homemade stews or soups to get maximum benefit from this pea-shaped legume.
Oats are for energy
A bowl of oats every day is a wonderful way to keep your blood sugar levels at optimal peak (oats have a low glycaemic index, which means they release energy into the bloodstream constantly and slowly). Oats also help in stabilising mood because of their large selenium content, while the beta glucans found in oats play a valuable part in improving immune system defences.
Bananas are a daily must for high energy levels, mood elevation and better sleep patterns. Packed with potassium, B6, A and C vitamins, fibre, phosphorous, iron and tryptophan (an amino acid) they stabilise blood sugar levels, fill you up and slow down digestion. The B6 assists in the conversion of the tryptophan to produce serotonin, which lifts moods and promotes good quality sleep.
Citrus for banishing the blues
Eating citrus fruit, which contains high levels of vitamin C, such as oranges, grapefruit, kumquats and lemons, not only beefs up your immune system, but also gives a fit of the blues the boot, thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties. And, vitamin C aids in lowering the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which results in reducing and even stopping stress.
Berry good stuff
All berries – blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, goji berries etc. – even cherries contain anthocyanins and anthocyanidins, those blue and red pigmented polyphenols with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Berries offer a host of health and mood-enhancing benefits, including reducing stress and depression, improving memory, supporting neurological response, lowering insulin levels and warding off colds and other viral infections. Long considered one of the superfoods, berries will ensure that you have plenty of get-up and go throughout the day!
Enjoy a daily dose of berries in a fruit smoothie, fruit salad or mix in with everyday salads. And don’t forget the star on the cake, cherries. Cherries contain melatonin, the hormone that establishes and controls the sleep and wake cycle in the body.
Leafy greens fight fatigue
Increase your iron intake (vital for fighting fatigue) by eating green leafy vegetables such as spinach, which is full of a special form of iron called heme that can be easily and effectively absorbed by the body. And, if you eat food rich in heme, your body will better absorb iron from other food sources.
Spinach and Swiss chard are also good sources of magnesium, a nutrient that naturally combats anxiety and creates a biochemical reaction in the brain to raise energy levels. Other green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts are high in folate, that magic B vitamin that the brain uses to process and synthesise norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine – mood stabilising chemicals – as well as ensuring the production of red blood cells. Asparagus not only contains folate but also has a high tryptophan count, making it a fantastic happy mood promoting food.
Go for vegan chocolate
And, never forget the benefit of indulging in a few blocks of dark chocolate, preferably organic and vegan. Believe it or not, dark chocolate makes us happy, thanks to the effect it has on raising levels of endorphin, that lovely “feel on top of the world” chemical produced by the brain, and its ability to reduce stress hormones, especially cortisol.
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