Adopting the Mediterranean diet can do more than just shrink your waistline—it can just improve your state of mind, too. In The Self-Healing Mind: An Essential Five-Step Practice for Overcoming Anxiety and Depression and Revitalizing Your Life, psychiatrist Gregory Scott Brown examines the connections between what we eat and our mental health. For example, the author cites a recent study called the SMILES Trial, which found that patients who incorporated a more anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent reduction in depression symptoms after six months. “We’re learning more about the fact that mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and ADHD are just as linked to inflammation as other lifestyle diseases like hypertension and type 2 diabetes,” he says. For optimal mental health, Dr. Brown recommends adding these six superfoods to your diet.
Eating probiotics can help with more than just digestion, Dr. Brown writes in The Self-Healing Mind: “People who regularly eat fermented foods, as well as plenty of fiber (which those good bugs love to eat), have bodies that are better equipped to handle stress. They also show less inflammation in the body. Both of these factors are associated with better mental health.”
Matcha green tea
If you struggle with anxiety, consider swapping your morning cup of joe for this famous drink, which is loaded with L-theanine. The amino acid has properties that can regulate glutamate production (which can make anxiety worse) and boost GABA (which helps us calm down). It can also increase the production of feel-good serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, oily fish can help reduce the type of inflammation associated with mental illness. This type of polyunsaturated fat is found in cold water fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel. Not a fan of seafood? “For people who don’t like fish, this is an area where supplementation has a lot of support in the scientific community,” says Dr. Brown.
If you’re looking for a meal that can boost your mood as well as your health, make yourself a big salad—and swap iceberg lettuce for dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard or spinach. “Green leafy vegetables actually help build some of the precursors for neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine that are important for mental health,” he says.
One of the most nutritious foods on the planet, eggs are packed with vitamin B, which plays a role in brain development and mood regulation, and vitamin D, which has been shown in studies to reduce symptoms of depression.
Looking for a healthy snack? It’s going crazy! Referred to by some scientists as “brain fertilizer,” the brain-derived neurotrophic factor chemical found in foods like almonds, walnuts, and cashews helps promote cell growth and connectivity. Eating nuts has been shown to increase BDNF levels and reduce symptoms of depression, notes Dr. Brown.