So much of what we experience on an emotional, cognitive, and mental level is a result of what we are putting into our bodies. Yet, we often look elsewhere when it comes to bolstering + elevating our emotional states: we up our self-care regime, meditate more frequently, or consult a healer. All of these practices are beautiful, beneficial, and healing, but I think an important piece of mental health that so many people overlook is the diet. What we eat is intimately connected to how we feel, and much of what we perceive to be emotional imbalances actually originate and develop because of what we may (or may not) be feeding ourselves.
Below, I explore my six favorite dietary + lifestyle practices that to create the physiological shifts necessary for an experience of less stress and improved mood.
::: Incorporate more high-quality fat into your diet My numero uno recommendation for mood support. When I hear a friend dipping below the line emotionally – fat. When I personally feel anxiety start to creep in – fat. It’s a deeply nourishing brain food, as the brain itself is largely comprised of fat. The immense rise in mood disorders and imbalances that we see and experience today is believed by nutritional researchers to be a result of the widespread low-fat craze (and of course, the corresponding rise in our consumption of sugar). That is, perhaps our collective state of declining mental health is not because we are all going crazy, but instead, simply because we are starving for more fat. Increasing our intake of high-quality fats (plant-based and otherwise) will correspond with an immediate increase of energy and elevation of mood, as well as long-term reduction, prevention, and perhaps even elimination of mood imbalances.
::: Stabilize blood sugar levels through regular low-glycemic and protein-including meals The blood sugar ups and downs that result from skipping meals, eating irregularly, and/or consuming a high-sugar diet are a major (though commonly overlooked) contributor to emotional imbalances. Sharp rises in blood sugar will leave you feeling energized (albeit easily distracted, ungrounded, and generally tweaked out), followed by spans of moodiness, fatigue, and anxiety after the inevitable blood sugar crash. Our moods are intimately connected to the state of our blood sugar, which is, of course, a result of how we feed the body. Eating three daily meals (and I mean like full, substantial meals) comprised of low-glycemic whole foods, protein, and fat, in addition to small snacks in between, will ensure that you keep blood sugar levels and mood elevated and balanced.
::: Support the gut-brain connection with ferments and probiotic-rich foods Roughly 90% of the bodies’ serotonin is housed within the gut, making the state of our digestive health a massive (and I mean massive) indication of how we will feel mentally and emotionally. Supporting our gut health is a beautiful and powerful way to make a dramatic, lasting change in our mood and mental health. How we do this through diet is by eliminating refined sugars and processed foods (duh) and incorporating more fermented, probiotic-rich foods.
::: Supplement with adaptogenic tonic herbs Adaptogens quite literally assist the body in adapting to stress, creating a positive shift in the way we respond to internal and external stressors on a chemical and physiological level. They make powerful, nourishing additions to the diet, especially for those of us experiencing emotional highs and lows, anxiety, mood imbalances, and high levels of stress. My top picks for mood support include mucuna pruriens, Rhodiola, maca, and ashwagandha – though each of us is a bit different, so feel free to experiment with what makes you feel most vibrant and aligned. Aloe vera is also an adaptogen I take daily for emotional support that definitely proves much easier (and less expensive) to source than tonic herbs.
::: Eliminate trigger foods It’s important to note that food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies present themselves as an array of symptoms, many of which are not physical. Mood and cognitive imbalances may be a reaction to a food that triggers an inflammatory response within your body. If you suspect this may be the case, the best course of action is to work through an elimination diet with a nutritionist, naturopath, or holistic doctor to pinpoint what food(s) are creating the adverse reaction. Common culprits include corn, eggs, the gluten protein, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, seafood, processed foods high in preservatives and additives, and animal products treated with antibiotics.
::: Increase vitamin D production via natural sunlight Less of a dietary tip and more of a lifestyle practice, getting enough vitamin D is absolutely crucial for thriving mental + emotional health and I felt I just couldn’t exclude it from this list. Unlike any other vitamin or mineral, our bodies have the ability to produce D, though only in the presence of sunlight. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and synthetic sources and supplements are neither recognized nor bioavailable for use by the body, making it of utmost importance that we just get outside and soak it up. Every tissue within the body contains vitamin D receptors – including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system – making it necessary at virtually every level for the body and mind to function optimally. There’s a direct and well-established link between depression (among other emotional and cognitive issues) and vitamin D deficiency, making a bit of sunshine a true + powerful antidote to an imbalance in these realms.