By: Dr. Isaac Eliaz
Feeling down? Take a look at your diet — at least that’s what many researchers are doing in order to explore the connections between food and mood. Junk foods, such as heavily processed, fried and artificial foods, demonstrate serious negative impacts on the brain and emotions, similar to narcotic drugs. They stimulate short-term reward centers in the central nervous system, but over time they can lead to dependency and mood imbalances, not to mention the all-too-common long term health consequences. On the other hand, a number of studies show that people — young and old — who eat more vegetables and fruits have better emotional stability, more happiness and less stress and anxiety. Recent research has also demonstrated that antioxidants — abundant in many plant-based foods — can promote emotional well being.
One 2013 study, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, examined the relationship between diet and mood in 281 young adults. Authors reported that participants who ate more fruits and vegetables felt calmer, happier and more energetic, calling for further studies to explore these connections.
A much larger study published late 2012 in the journal Social Indicators Research examined the diets of 80,000 people in Britain. Results showed that happiness and emotional well being were “dose dependent” on the amount of vegetables and fruits people ate, suggesting that emotional well being peaks with seven servings of fruit and/or vegetables a day. Measurable indicators included self-reported life satisfaction, mental well being, happiness, nervousness and others.
Apparently, seven servings is the magic number to reach a greater plateau of mental and emotional wellness, according to the authors of this study. However, it’s likely that this level of wellness can be surpassed to bring even greater health and happiness, when good-mood-foods are combined with other measures such as regular exercise, mind-body practices and targeted natural supplements.
GOOD MOOD SUPER-FOODS
Here are some star player foods that go a long way to boost mental, emotional and overall physical health and wellness. These whole foods are rich in antioxidants, minerals and nutrients to support relaxation and boost mental clarity and happiness. They also support numerous other areas of health in the process.
Leafy greens, such as spinach, beet greens, collards, kale and others are loaded with nutrients that the brain and body love. In particular, they contain high amounts of magnesium (particularly spinach), which is essential in promoting relaxation and helping the brain to increase GABA activity. GABA is a neurotransmitter involved in relaxation and stress relief, among other important functions. Greens also contain B vitamins and folate, which are essential in managing stress. Micro-algae, such as spirulina, are also considered “green foods” because of high chlorophyll content. Spirulina contains a good percentage of stress-busting vitamin B-12 as well as protein and minerals, and helps to balance blood sugar, which is also essential in promoting a healthy mood.
Cruciferous vegetables, particularly broccoli, are some of the most nutrient dense vegetables. They contain a number of active compounds that promote many areas of health including mental and emotional well being. Cabbage contains tryptophan and selenium (along with numerous other phytonutrients), which help relax and support a healthy mood. Broccoli is high in vitamin C, which helps combat the effects of increased cortisol. Furthermore, these vegetables are excellent detoxifiers and contain an abundance of antioxidants to help promote long-term physical, mental and emotional wellness.
These rich fruits are nutritional super-foods. Packed with healthy mood and brain-supporting fats, protein, vitamin B-6 and folate, avocados support numerous areas of health including a balanced mood. Avocados also contain tryptophan, which helps promote healthy relaxation.
THE PATH OF LIFE
Physical health and mental/emotional health are intimately connected. As your body becomes stronger and healthier — with the right foods, lifestyle habits and targeted natural supplements — happiness, relaxation, brain function and vitality will increase as well. Overall, these self-care practices help nourish the positive outlook and energy you need to optimize health and wellness for life.
Dr. Isaac Eliaz is an integrative medical doctor, licensed acupuncturist, researcher, product formulator, and frequent guest lecturer. He has been a pioneer in holistic medicine since the early 1980s, and has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers on several of his key integrative health formulas. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, California, an integrative health center specializing in cancer and chronic conditions.