Mental health is dependent on many factors; one of them is nutrition. In 2008 the World Health Organization estimated that about 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. That’s a lot of people. I suffer from mental health concerns, and while I do take my medication, I also try to live a clean and healthy life to enhance my overall well-being.
It’s no surprise that processed sugars, refined grains, empty carbs, and fried foods aren’t going to give you a boost of energy or enhance your mood. But what about the powers that lay behind super foods that can help combat anxiety and depression? We all know the benefits of fruits and vegetables, but today I dive into less obvious remedies for holistic health.
Say what? I’m not saying to devour a chocolate bar whole. I’m talking about raw, organic, dark chocolate that still has flavonoids and nutrients intact. One study showed that individuals with high stress who ate a small piece every day for two weeks reported reduced stress hormones, including cortisol. Experts believe it could be thanks to the antioxidants in chocolate. My favorite is Giddy YoYo’s raw vanilla chocolate. Yum.
Tip: Dark chocolate is great, but raw cacao powder is even better; try adding it to your smoothies and baking!
This beautifully pigmented spice is one of the most expensive in the world, standing at $500 an ounce. In a study done at the Psychiatric Hospital in the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, researchers found that saffron contained antidepressant effects comparable to many over the counter prescription drugs. Researchers believe that the spice works by “the same mechanism as Prozac,” helping to make the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin more available to the brain.
Note: My Persian partner refers to Saffron as the ‘laughing’ spice because it instantly uplifts your mood. Add it to your tea or cooking recipes!
This golden-yellow spice is quite common in traditional Indian cuisine, but also in many beauty regimens. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and tastes delicious, it is also one of the strongest natural antidepressants. Researchers believe this is due to the curcumin found in turmeric. These anti-anxiety effects are likely due to curcumins ability to normalize specific physiological pathways. Curcumin also provides protection to the brain. It is noted to be just as effective as Prozac (a common anti-depressant) without all the awful side effects.
Tip: Add a little turmeric to your cooking or smoothies! Turmeric & ginger go wonderfully together. Careful though, it stains like a b*tch.
We all know we’re supposed to eat your leafy greens. However, some of the most effective “greens” are actually blue-algae known as spirulina and chlorella. Spirulina is noted to be the most protein dense plant source in the world. The amino acids that Chlorella and Spirulina contain are vital because amino acids affect the production of serotonin in the body, a compound that is essential for generating a “stress-defence shield”. A deficiency in serotonin will cause depression, chronic stomach problems and neurological disorders and loss of appetite.
Tip: While many add this powerful green powder to their smoothies, some folks prefer taking it in capsule form because it can taste a little “sea-weedy”. Research the nutritional profiles in spirulina and chlorella to see which one suits you best!
5. Chia Seeds
Not only are chia seeds awesome for digestion, but they have some other secret powers. Chia seeds are also packed with amino acids, high levels of iron, and manganese that are vital for healthy brain function. They also assist with neurotransmitter function and the production of serotonin in the body. Finally, they’re a great source of omega-3, a fatty acid that helps reduce depression and anxiety.
Tip: Chia doesn’t have much flavor so you can put them in almost anything. Salads, oatmeal, smoothies, you name it. They also absorb 6x their water weight so they are great for keeping you full for longer, and their gelatinous properties help flush out toxins!
We cannot speak about Omega-3’s without mentioning Hemp. They are super mood enhancers and promote relaxation and happiness in the body. Similar to chia and raw cacao (which chocolate is derived from), it is packed with magnesium and iron. Both of these are critical to healthy brain function, and one of the best for improving dopamine production in the body without chemicals or stimulants. Dopamine is the body’s happy and pleasure hormone.
Tip: Try sprinkling some on your morning oatmeal or greek yogurt. Hulled hemp hearts are great, I love spiced & roasted hemp seeds – I haven’t touched potato chips in years since finding this stuff.
7. Camu Camu Powder
Vitamin-C has been shown to lower your blood pressure and help reduce stress. Camu Camu is a tropical rainforest plant whose berries have the highest known levels of natural vitamin C in the world; only one teaspoon contains 1180x your daily intake. Camu Camu also has properties that normalize bodily processes during stress, and help relieve symptoms of depression.
Tip: Camu camu powder can be taken in capsule form or powder; the choice is yours! Make sure it’s good quality; Giddy YoYo never disappoints in the quality of their products.
Maca, also known as “Peruvian ginseng,” is a root vegetable that is packed with amino acids, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Similar to the other foods, herbs and spices mentioned, it has long been used in traditional medicine to increase energy and stamina, enhance libido, and boost the immune, adrenal, and endocrine systems. Maca is a super food that is a must have if you have low energy levels and high stress levels.
Tip: Similar to Camu camu, Maca can be taken in capsule form or powder. It has an earthy taste (similar to beets) and I just love adding this to my morning smoothie for a pick me up.
While I agree there are many determinants of health and that depression is not a result of poor nutrition, it can play a role in keeping you down. Not only has the definition of mental health changed over the years, but the wide array of meds for depression has quadrupled. These prescription drugs are filled with dangerous toxins and have awful side effects, making people like myself wonder; is it worth it? With these 8 superfoods you may find something that can naturally ease your anxiety and uplift your mood.
Featured Image via Gabi E. Mulder