Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the mineral selenium, and studies have shown that people who are low in it have increased rates of depression, irritability, anxiety and tiredness. How much do you need? All it takes are three Brazil nuts to get your RDA of selenium. Have them as a mid-morning snack with a banana, or sprinkle chopped Brazil nuts on salads or a stir-fry.
Oily fish – People who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids may be more susceptible to depression and low mood, according to research, as these fatty acids make up a large percentage of our brain tissue. “About 60% of the dry weight of the brain is fat, with about 30% of that in the form of omega 3,” says Dr Eva Cyhlarova, head of research at the Mental Health Foundation. Eating salmon, mackerel and sardines regularly will keep your brain healthy and improves your mood by keeping brain cells flexible, so the brain’s messaging chemicals – neurotransmitters – can work more effectively. How much do you need? At least one serving (140g) a week. Try mackerel on toast or with salad for a brain-boosting breakfast or lunch.
Oats are an effective mood booster because of their low glycaemic index (GI) – they slowly release energy into the bloodstream, which keeps blood sugar and mood stable. Oats also contain the mood-boosting mineral selenium. How much do you need? Half a cup of porridge is a great way to start the day. Try it with a spoonful of honey and nuts or yoghurt for added protein.
Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan as well as vitamins A, B6 and C, fiber, potassium, phosphorous, iron and carbohydrate. Mood-boosting carbohydrates aid in the absorption of tryptophan in the brain, while vitamin B6 helps convert the tryptophan into the mood-lifting hormone serotonin. This helps to boost your mood and also aids sleep. Because of its ability to raise serotonin levels, tryptophan has been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, such as insomnia, depression and anxiety. How much do you need? Eat a medium-sized banana as a mid-morning snack each day or slice it into porridge in the morning.
Lentils are complex carbohydrate so, like bananas, help increase the brain’s production of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. This results in a calmer, happier state of mind with less anxiety. They also help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, keeping your mood even. Plus, they’re high in folate – deficiencies in folate have been linked to depression and mania. And finally, lentils can help boost your iron levels, which will give you a nice shot of energy. How much do you need? Try half a cup of lentils in homemade soups or stews. To make lentils easier to digest, soak them for a few hours before cooking.
Chicken and turkey breast also help increase your intake of the amino acid tryptophan, the body uses tryptophan to make serotonin. It also helps to make the hormone melatonin, which regulate sleep. It also contains tyrosine, which can help reduce symptoms of depression and help you avoid feeling blue in the first place. Tyrosine is used to make the hormone adrenaline – low levels of which have been associated with depression. How much do you need? Luckily, you can’t really over do it on chicken and turkey – use them a few times a week in soups, sandwiches or on their own with vegetables.
Spinach. Certain deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression, as serotonin production can actually be hindered by low B vitamin levels. Important B vitamins to look out for include folate, vitamins B3, B6 and B12, and eating leafy green vegetables – such as spinach or broccoli – will help keep your levels up. How much do you need? A cup of cooked spinach provides nearly 30% of your RDA of a few B vitamins, so add it to stir-fry and soups, or make a raw spinach salad for lunch.
Water is extremely important for our bodies to function properly – and even the smallest degree of water loss can impair our physical and mental wellbeing. When we’re dehydrated, it can really affect our ability to concentrate. How much do I need? Experts recommend 1-2L of water a day. But if you’re not that keen, remember teas count towards that goal. Try starting the day with a mug of freshly boiled water and a slice of lemon, or add a fresh sprig of mint, cucumber or strawberries to a jug of cold water to jazz it up.
Cereal. Calcium has been shown to help reduce your levels of stress and anxiety, and fortified breakfast cereals are a great source, as well as prawns, sardines, tofu and cooked spinach. How much do you need? A cup of fortified cereal can provide up to a third of your RDA of calcium, and a dinner of prawns and cooked spinach can help top up your levels.
Dark chocolate. There’s a reason why chocolate always seems to make things better. A small square of dark chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. In a recent study, 30 people were given 40g of dark chocolate, over 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their anxiety levels decreased. How much do you need? A couple small dark squares is all it takes (70% cocoa or more), so try not to hoover up the whole bar!