It can be tough to stay on a clean-eating track when your spirits drop. Your first instinct might to be to reach for sugary treats and trans-fat laden junk food to pull you out of the doldrums. The inevitable upshot of your moment of weakness will be a blood sugar spike, then a mood crash and brain fog that sticks around for much longer.
The smarter solution to the occasional bout of the moody Eeyores (the gloomy donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh books) is a more measured approach. When you eat the following nutrient-dense combinations, you’re getting what your body needs to build, protect and mend your brain. Feed thy brain and thy brain will reward you with sustained laser-focus, a more cheerful disposition and an improved ability to deal with stress. Eat well and be happy about it? That’s a prescription even Eeyore would love.
1. COCOA & OATMEAL
Sprinkle up to a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder into your morning oatmeal for an extra boost to your first meal of the day. Oats contain beta-glucan, which steadies blood sugar, so you’re less likely to get hangry mid-morning if you have oats for breakfast. Compounds in cocoa powder release endorphins and boost serotonin, the neurotransmitter that contributes to good moods when you’re under stress. With a breakfast like this, who needs a doughnut?
2. WHOLE-GRAIN TOAST, SCRAMBLED EGGS & WILD SALMON
Eggs are full of B12 and studies have shown deficiencies in the vitamin can lead to low energy. Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to work like antidepressants in the brain. Pile a creamy salmon-and-egg scramble on top of whole-grain toast, which offers a slow release of feel-good serotonin, sprinkle the top with chives and you’ve got an Instagram-worthy good mood on a plate. The “likes” on your feed are an added boost.
3. BANANAS & MILK
If you’re short on time time for breakfast and about to start your period, whirl up a smoothie with Greek yogurt, vitamin D-fortified milk, banana and honey and take it to go. The calcium in yogurt paired with the milk’s vitamin D helps fight off mood fluctuations related to the menstrual cycle. Bananas contains a good dose of B6, which studies show can help with depression and mood swings, especially if you’re suffering from PMS.
4. ASPARAGUS, EGG & LEMON
The folate in asparagus partners with the B12 in the egg to create new brain cells and support serotonin regulation; the duo is being investigated as a natural way to help treat depression. Steam or grill asparagus and top with a finely chopped hard-boiled egg. Add a squeeze of lemon juice for a dose of vitamin C (linked to mood enhancement) and a drizzle of lemon-flavored olive oil, and then gaze at all the pretty promise of spring on your plate — another way to lift your mood.
5. TURKEY & BEANS
Ground turkey is a lean alternative to ground beef and it delivers the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine, both of which have been shown to chase away the blues. Turkey and beans are also good sources of iron, which can protect you against iron-deficiency anemia, a common blood cell disorder that can make you grumpy and apathetic … in a word Eeyore-ish. Try them together in this recipe for white bean chili with a hit of lime.
6. MUSSELS & CURRY
These briny bivalves aren’t just an easy-to-prepare seafood treat, they’re packed with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid linked to alleviating depression. Mussels are also a good source of selenium, a mineral associated with better moods and healthy thyroid function. Turmeric has been found to boost dopamine and serotonin production, and curry spices like cumin, cinnamon, fenugreek and chile peppers are all powerful antioxidants, which help our brains fight inflammation, a leading cause of dementia and memory loss. Try them together: Sauté a tablespoon of curry powder, or better yet, homemade curry paste, and whisk in a can of coconut milk. Add 2 pounds of mussels, cover, and cook until the mussels open, about 7 minutes. Not only will your tongue be tingly, so will your brain.
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7. MACKEREL & KALE
Mackerel is one of the “oily” fish doctors recommend we eat more of. That’s because they’re packed to the gills with omega-3s, the fatty acids shown to improve mood and mental function in several studies. A quick trip under the broiler until flaky and a squeeze of lemon is all the flavorful fillets need. Serve the fish alongside sautéed kale, a top source of vitamin K, shown to protect against crabby “senior moments.” Finish the dish with nitrate-free bacon crumbled over the kale, because if there’s one thing that’ll give you a positive outlook on life, it’s bacon.
8. SPINACH, ALMONDS & RASPBERRIES
Spinach is high in magnesium, a key mineral for energy. To get your full RDA of magnesium, toss 2 cups of baby spinach with 2 tablespoons of almonds, a little lemon juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Add some raspberries for a dose of anthocyanin; the flavonoids help you remember things like where you put your keys, a leading cause of irritability among adults.
9. AVOCADO, SEAWEED & BROWN RICE
Nori seaweed is an excellent plant-based source of B12 (see number 3), a brain-healthy nutrient that can be a challenge to get enough of if you happen to be a vegetarian. It’s also full of taurine, a brain stimulant that can help you feel relaxed and happy. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats, precursors to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that helps us learn and remember things. Be sure to order your brain-expanding roll with brown rice for a slower release of feel-good carbohydrates so you feel full … and mellow longer. Bring them all together in these Avocado Asparagus Rolls.