I don’t know about you but when I’m feeling down, a little exhausted and just not in the best mood I want to turn to comfort foods. Think chocolate, a bag of salty potato chips or a big bowl of pasta Bolognese to make myself feel better. I know it’s not the right choice. I also know it will probably actually make me feel worse (well maybe not DURING those few minutes I’m enjoying my favorite delicious chocolate bar), but minutes later I’ll still be in a slump, AND I’ll feel guilty about what I just binged on. For numerous reasons I know this is the wrong choice, but hey no one is perfect, right? As I get older, I’m getting better about this but some research I’ve been doing lately has really sealed the deal for me. What you fuel your body has a huge impact on your mind, body and soul. It’s a proven fact that certain foods help combat depression and anxiety and today, I’m here to share real evidence on the direct correlation between your diet and your emotional and mental state. There is a real concrete reason why those chips, chocolate and pasta won’t help boost your mood.

Mental health illnesses are on the rise and are being diagnosed younger and younger. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 18% of the population and growing. On a serious note, I think that the mental health care system in this country could use MAJOR help. However, I am happy and feeling positive about all the resources that are being put into researching holistic approaches to these crippling diseases. It’s no surprise to me that at the crux of this holistic approach to battling depression and anxiety is food. Basically, you are (and feel) what you eat!

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that next month, “the World Journal of Psychiatry will publish “Antidepressant Foods: An Evidence-based Nutrient Profiling System for Depression,” by Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and Dr. Laura LaChance of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. It includes a nutrient-profile scale, which identifies the most nutrient-dense foods in relation to “the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders.” The paper names 12 nutrients key to managing depression and anxiety: folate (vitamin B9), iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C and zinc. The foods richest in these include bivalves such as clams, mussels and oysters; leafy greens such as kale and spinach; wild salmon; organ meats; nuts; beans and seeds.”

The following “feel good” foods are what the paper recommends getting your hands on and ingesting on a daily basis if you’re looking for a holistic approach to your mental health:

Whole grains: Whole is the key word here. Refined grains have proven to have a direct correlation with depression.

Seafood: Research has shown promise that omega-3 fatty acids could ease depression by boosting brain function and reducing inflammation. Oily fish are rich in omega-3s, and mackerel has one of the highest concentrations. Other omega-3-rich foods that fight depression include herring, sardines, and anchovies.

Fermented Foods: Fermented foods like pickles and kimchi contain probiotics and probiotics are crucial to gut health which is essential for mental health.

Beans: Specifically red beans which contain B vitamins, thiamine, iron and magnesium (one of my favorite mineral supplements).

Fruits: Bananas are a favorite here. A single banana contains 22 percent of your daily vitamin B6, a nutrient that helps your body make the neurotransmitter serotonin, and low serotonin levels are linked to depression. Plums are another good option. They contain a high level of flavonoids—a type of antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables that have been linked with lowering depression.

Legumes: Try to incorporate lentils into your daily diet. They are rich in magnesium, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

Leafy Greens: Spinach and Kale provide all the essential nutrients; magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E and B vitamins.

Seeds: Chia, sunflower and flaxseeds contain a tremendous amount of contain vitamin E, vitamin B1, magnesium, zinc and omega 3 fats. Try incorporating chia or flaxseeds into a daily smoothie.

Oils: Olive Oil and fish oil contain omega-3 fats, and vitamin E.

Spices: Turmeric and ginger provide high levels of contain magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B1 and vitamin E. They are also delicious to cook with and can take the flavor of almost any meal up a notch. Make sure to stock these in your kitchen.

Looking at the above list I couldn’t help but think about the beloved Mediterranean diet I shared with you all on the blog a few weeks ago.  Fresh fruit and fish, olive oil, spices and whole grains. There is something to be said about this way of living and the proof is in all this recent research and evidence.

Any professional would tell you that it’s absolutely understood that this diet is only one piece of the puzzle when trying to combat mental illness and should of course be used in conjunction with exercising daily, getting ample sleep and receiving therapy from a professional.

My heart goes out to those struggling to find their happiest most content selves. My nutritional advice would be to start small, try adjusting your diet and incorporating the above ingredients into your daily menu, try to cut out or vastly limit caffeine and stay away from refined and processed foods. Try it all to see what works best for you and lastly, give yourself a little grace. Eat well! Xx Janine