Taking care of your brain is important, especially at work — your mental health affects your energy level, focus and more. It’s essential to maintain this aspect of your health and well-being to keep yourself productive in the long run. Fortunately, there are several food options that can help you stay fired up when carrying out your daily tasks.
The Science Behind Serotonin and Cortisol
Before diving into mentally healthy foods, let’s look at the science of why you should take them. Appetite is one of the most important factors when it comes to keeping yourself functional enough to work, second only to sleep. One common denominator the two share is a hormone called serotonin.
Serotonin is a chemical responsible for regulating your mood and rest, along with other bodily functions. Stable serotonin levels lead to feeling good, and the opposite can result in emotional instability.
Cortisol is another key hormone in your body, which helps regulate your body’s stress response. Like serotonin, it’s important to have cortisol levels in check to ensure that your body and brain function properly.
Unfortunately, constant stress can result in higher levels of cortisol. Whether it’s from work or another facet of your life, fluctuations can either increase or decrease your food intake, depending on the foods you surround yourself. The presence of high-calorie and palatable foods that are high in fats and sugar tends to increase food intake.
Although increased food intake can sound like a good thing, high-calorie and palatable foods can contribute to bad bacteria in your digestive system. More specifically, they can hinder the neural pathways between your brain and gastrointestinal tract.
Why is it so important to understand the difference between good and bad bacteria for your body and mind? Around 95% of serotonin is produced by the digestive system.
To recap, low serotonin levels can create stress due to appetite loss. Appetite loss can contribute to stress, which increases cortisol levels. High cortisol levels lead to unhealthy food consumption and a continuous lack of serotonin. And the cycle goes on.
Boost Your Mental Health With These 10 Foods
The best way to break the cycle of low serotonin-high cortisol is to change up your diet. A study led by Felice Jacka, PhD, director of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia (BMC Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 215, 2015), published by apa.org, found that 67 adults with depression had higher chances of entering remission after receiving nutritional support compared to just undergoing regular therapy.
Moving away from junk food and replacing it with nutritious food can make a positive impact on your body and mind. It can take some time to shift gears, but making the change is a great step in the right direction.
Spinach and other leafy greens are at the top of the list for mental well-being. In addition to offering cardiovascular protection, spinach contains anti-stress and anti-depressive properties. It can also help with slowing down cognitive decline, which keeps your brain health up to par while aging.
A bit of lobster or mackerel is good every now and then, not just for your cravings but for your mental health too. Seafood is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered necessary nutrients in your body. While they offer several health benefits, they contribute to your eyesight and brain development the most.
A wide variety of nuts contain healthy fats and proteins. Walnuts deserve a little more recognition, as they can help improve your mood thanks to their folate, polyphenols and alpha-linolenic acid. If you’re feeling peckish, consider grabbing a cup full of walnuts.
Yogurt has a reputation for improving gut health. Since the digestive system is responsible for producing serotonin, the probiotics in this creamy milk product can help with mood regulation and stress reduction in the long run. Enjoying yogurt as a light dessert after a meal can help you feel more motivated when working.
Avocados are dubbed as a superfood for breakfast, and for good reason. It is rich in B vitamins like B1, B2, B12 and more. This mix can help convert carbohydrates into energy that helps with improving brain function. There’s also fiber in this fruit, which makes it good for gut health.
6. Green Tea
Green tea contains L-theanine, which can assist with reducing stress and anxiety. It can also improve one’s cognitive functions in the long run. It’s recommended to drink tea with about 200-400mg of amino acid to fully enjoy its stress-relieving properties, so it’s nice to steep a cup before clocking in, according to a study published by the NIH assessing the effects of green tea amino acid L-Theanine consumption and it’s ability to manage stress and anxiety.
Eggs also contain many B vitamins, which can help with reducing the risk of anxiety and depression. It’s also a nice food option that can aid you in getting more sleep, ensuring you’re well-rested by the time you get to work.
Strawberries, cranberries, grapes and other berries are excellent choices when it comes to maintaining mental health thanks to their components in fighting oxidative stress. Blueberries are particularly effective because they also reduce neuroinflammation to protect the brain.
9. Citrus fruits
Fruits containing citrus, such as oranges, can help improve one’s mood by boosting serotonin production. Its versatility helps combat stress, so try peeling one between meals. Juicing these fruits also provides a great source of antioxidants.
Everything is good in moderation, and the same sentiment goes for chocolate. The taste alone can put you in a good mood. This dessert can help improve blood flow to the brain, which helps you think clearer while working.
Prep Mental Health Meals
It’s possible to stay mentally healthy while navigating work stress with the right meals and snacks. Remember to take a moment and recharge with nutritious food. Follow the guide above and get ready for your next grocery run.
Beth Rush is the career and finance editor at Body+Mind. She has 5+ years of experience writing about time management strategies and the power of human design to reveal entrepreneurial potential. She also writes about using the emotion of awe to activate our leadership prowess.
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