A Grocery List for Mental Health
INGREDIENTS TO ELEVATE MOOD, IMPROVE MEMORY, AND DEEPEN CONNECTION
So much of what is experienced on an emotional, cognitive, and mental level is a result of what we put in our body. Yet, we often look elsewhere when it comes to bolstering and elevating our emotional states: we up our self-care regimen, meditate more frequently, or consult a healer. All of these practices are beautiful and enriching, but what we eat is intimately connected to how we feel. As psychiatrist, author, and farmer, Dr. Drew Ramsey explains, our brains are essentially composed of food. “The only molecule up [in the brain] that doesn't come from the end of your fork, is the oxygen that you breathe,” he says. With that, we look to our plate: to quell anxiety, boost sex drive, elevate mood, and even raise consciousness.
Next time you’re making your grocery list, add these items for their brain-nourishing properties.
Chickpeas: Chickpeas (as well as other legumes like lentils and black beans) are not only protein-rich; they are whole-food forms of zinc. Zinc aids in nerve signaling in the brain, and is a key producer of sex hormones like testosterone and prolactin. A thriving libido is certainly one method to uplift spirits. On a daily basis, you can easily incorporate zinc, along with 71 other ionic minerals, in your hydration regimen.
Aloe Vera: You may be familiar with aloe’s external healing benefits, after a long day of sunbathing or for small scrapes and cuts; ingested internally, aloe is equally impactful as an anti-inflammatory hero, adaptogen, and digestive aid. It contains potent polysaccharides, an ally in proper nutrient absorption, as well as the essential mineral magnesium. Proper levels of magnesium have been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, irritability, and even apathy. Along with this hormone-supporting adaptogen, other whole food sources of magnesium include chard, avocado, almonds, and spinach.
Banana: A humble fruit, but a powerful one thanks to its prebiotic fiber. Your G.I. tract can’t digest this type of fiber, so instead it ferments, a process that breeds healthy bacteria which support gut health. The gut is intimately related to the brain through the vagus nerve. Thought of as the cognitive superhighway, the vagus nerve controls most involuntary body processes, digestion very much included. Without this nerve, we’d only have access to the parts of our brain responsible for primal instincts—think of a world without creativity, decision-making, and deep contemplation! We can strengthen the vagus nerve’s capabilities by cultivating a diverse array of beneficial bacterial strains in our gut. Other foods that offer prebiotic fiber include artichokes, chicory root, and alliums like onion and garlic.
Kimchi: While prebiotic fiber act as food for the bacteria, probiotics are the actual microbes themselves. Kimchi and other ferments are delicious resources to supply bacteria with the nourishment they need. Ferments make nutritive additions atop sandwiches, salads, or macro bowls, and help round out a food-as-medicine approach to support the gut-brain axis.
we look to our plate: to quell anxiety, boost sex drive, elevate mood, and even raise consciousness.
Rosemary: Rosemary was used for centuries by Greeks and Romans as a symbol of remembrance. In modern times, compelling studies have shown the fragrance alone has potential to stimulate cognitive function, memory, and focus. Showering more straightforward meals with herbs is not only wise from a taste perspective, but many offer a dose of brain-loving nutrition—turmeric, ginger, and sage are also well-known for their anti-inflammatory and mental health benefits.
Walnuts: The brain is largely composed of fat and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. When anxiety and unsteady emotions abound, a lack of healthy fats may be the culprit. An easy way to add healthy fats into your diet is through seeds and nuts, the walnut being one of the best. Walnuts are shaped like the brain for a reason; they are a potent source of DHA as well as folate, an important nutrient for newborn development. Omega-3s also help to nurture the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, a master hormone that controls neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of our brains to create new patterns, habits, and ways of thinking. As humans who seek to evolve, release unhelpful mindsets, or approach life with new zest, this capability is essential.
Citrus: Electric in hue and joyfully sweet, citrus is important for brain health as it contains ample vitamin C, which is connected to anti-inflammation and fighting free radicals. Many neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia, are related to oxidative stress, so including this antioxidant as much as possible is key. Find it in other richly colored sources like spaghetti squash, blueberries, sweet potatoes, and bell peppers.
Shiitake mushrooms: While access to sunshine might be seasonal for many, everyone should aim to get vitamin D on their plate daily. Vitamin D has been shown to activate genes that support the immune system and release serotonin and dopamine, important mood-lifting hormones. Shiitake, cremini, and maitake all make excellent vehicles for this; or for extra credit, look to medicinal mushrooms such as chaga and Lion’s Mane, the latter of which has been studied to improve the brain’s Nerve Growth Factor.
Protein + Greens Super Powder: If you’re seeking full-spectrum brain support, this is the ultimate workhorse. This Super Powder includes wheatgrass and barley grass. Cereal grasses regulate blood sugar; when insulin fluctuates erratically from processed foods, a high-sugar diet, or eating irregularly, anxiety and stress have a tendency to run rampant. Barley grass, in particular, contains beta-glucan, a compound that slows the absorption of glucose. The powder uplevels one step more, care of digestive enzymes that stimulate stomach acids. This is essential to eliminate bloat and aid in proper nutrient absorption, so all the healing foods you flood your body with are used efficiently. And that is the ultimate peace of mind.
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