Stressed out? Well, we have some comforting news: believe it or not, certain nutrients found in whole foods have the ability to both improve our brain health and lower stress to help us relax a little more every time we eat. Our brain health is vital to our overall health, and food plays a super large role in our sense of emotional well-being, so it’s about time we started viewing food as a necessary component in our self-care routines!
Powerful Nutrients for The Brain
Important nutrients that help support our mood include B vitamins, magnesium, protein, omega-3s, calcium, iron, zinc, and complex carbohydrates that are rich sources of fiber. However, instead of taking supplements made from synthetic versions of these nutrients, we’re much better off just eating the right foods.
Dr. Neal Barnard from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine specializes in the topic of brain health and food and has even written a book about it called Power Foods for the Brain, which is a wealth of science-based information on food and mood. As Dr. Barnard shares in his book, and as you’ll see down below, there are many foods that not only support mood health to lower stress levels, but that can also support heart health, longevity, and focus as a result.
So eat up, because relaxation is just a few bites away!
Bananas are an excellent (and convenient) food that will help chill you out pronto! They’re a natural source of several nutrients for your health, which includes vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium. Additionally, they contain three grams of fiber per fruit so their natural sugars will release slowly into the bloodstream. Bananas are also great for digestion and gut health, and they’re a natural source of the amino acid, tryptophan, which helps your body produce serotonin naturally.
Choose ripe, spotted bananas which normally digest easier for most people, and use them in smoothies, vegan banana bread, or add them to any dish you like. Try these banana recipes out next time you need a mood boost: Peanut Butter Strawberry Nice Cream, Dark Chocolate Marbled Banana Bread, or these 4-Ingredient Popsicles.
Sweet potatoes are a favorite food of many, and there’s a reason why! Sweet potatoes are loaded with mood-boosting benefits to help lower stress levels naturally. Studies have shown that they’re rich in depression-busting antioxidants, along with vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, and amino acids, including tryptophan, the same calming nutrient found in bananas. Sweet potatoes’ high potassium and magnesium content also help to reduce blood pressure levels that affect stress levels.
Eat sweet potatoes roasted with herbs and/or spices, mix them into soups and stews, or try them out in baked goods.Here are some recipes to give sweet potato recipes a try: Baked Sweet Potato Stuffed With Turmeric Hummus, Sweet Potato Ginger Granola Bars, and Grilled Avocado, Cauliflower, and Sweet Potato Power Bowl With Tahini Dressing.
Leafy greens are filled with many nutrients you need to manage stress which include iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and even protein, believe it or not.
Spinach, kale, collards, chard, asparagus, and Romaine are all great greens to choose from and some of the most beneficial when it comes to overall nutrient composition. There are also studies that show the high chlorophyll content in dark greens (and green veggies) contribute to a healthier mood to reduce stress. Green never looked so good!
Eat your greens each day for optimal mood health with some of our favorite ways to enjoy them. Read 5 Nutritious Underrated Greens You Should Put in Your Salads and then try recipes like this Ginger Mushrooms and Spinach, Kale and Roasted Corn Fry, Buffalo Chickpea Caesar Salad, and Green Superfood Detox Smoothie.
Oats are packed with mood-boosting benefits to help lower your stress levels. Oats are high in vitamin B6, protein, and magnesium; they’re also a good source of calcium, iron, and potassium. Oats are also one of the top foods scientifically proven to improve heart health due to their unique ability to lower cholesterol, blood pressure levels, aid in digestion, and reduce overall inflammation in the body.
There are endless ways to enjoy oats, too. You can cook them into a creamy porridge, bake with them, and even add them to your smoothie. Or, have them for a snack or dessert.
Check out these delicious 12 recipes with oats, bake up a batch of these Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Hazelnut Macaroons, Maple Spice Oatmeal, or enjoy oats in Oat and Spelt Crunchie Bars for your own homemade nutrition bars.
5. Nuts and Seeds
Various nuts and seeds are loaded with nutrition for brain health, and a little bit of them here and there will go a long way. They’re known for their healthy fats and natural sources of protein, but nuts and seeds have far more to offer than just these nutrients!
Almonds are high in magnesium, protein, calcium, and antioxidants that reduce inflammation including vitamin E. Almonds are also a natural source of fiber which helps lower blood sugar levels and potassium which lowers blood pressure levels.
Walnuts, chia, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acid which are powerful healthy fats for optimal brain health that can help lower stress levels and reduce inflammation. They’re also high in magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Cashews are high in vitamin B6, magnesium, and iron to reduce stress levels, and even peanut butter (although a legume, not a nut) is high in vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and is a complete source of protein.
Lentils are a delicious, special legume because they’re tiny but powerful when it comes to supporting our health. Lentils are some of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet, and they’re loaded with mood-boosting nutrients including iron, potassium, magnesium, protein, fiber, and zinc.
Lentils are also a great source of several B vitamins which can help improve both your energy and your mood. Best of all, they’re an extremely affordable source of nutrition.
Berries’ mood-boosting benefits come from their high vitamin C content and their rich sources of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which have been shown to not only protect the brain but also improve our mood. All fruits are excellent — and important — for our health, but berries are a truly special fruit when it comes to supporting overall health.
Berries are great sources of fiber to lower blood sugar levels which can help lower blood pressure levels, and their unique combination of vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber can work to help your heart work more efficiently which helps your stress levels as a result.
So toss some berries into your next smoothie or bowl of porridge, and stock up on frozen berries to save some extra money versus always buying fresh. Then, try berries out in the following recipes and add as many servings to your day as you like! Enjoy berries in Coconut Berry Bliss Bars, 5 Ingredient Sugar-Free Banana Bread, Raw Chocolate Cream Cake With Berries, and Raspberry and Blue Spirulina Smoothie.
All fruits, veggies, and whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth are also excellent foods to improve mood because they all contain varying amounts of B vitamins, amino acids, fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C. Turn to nature next time you need to zen out with a meal by basing it off of real plant foods versus refined foods and you won’t be disappointed!
If you like articles like this and want more, plus thousands of plant-based recipes, we highly suggest downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead Image Source: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Hazelnut Macaroons