The art of healthy living is no longer a luxury but an indispensable investment to enhance the quality of life and lift our mood. Plant-based meals or eco-conscious cuisine may play an important role in perking up emotional health. A diet chart rich in whole grains, lean meats, vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts can work wonders for holistic healing.
Fruitarians, eggetarians, lacto-vegetarians, kosher vegans or simply veggies swear on their platters to dish out the right kind of food to keep their mood in good humour. But can sustainable eating improve one’s mental health and reduce depression?
“One of the lesser-known advantages of Ayurveda is that its herbs and spices bolster the happiness quotient, enriching flavors and fragrances of food items in turn,” informs Dr. Smita Naram, co-founder of Ayushakti.
Improving mental well-being, Ayurvedic elements leave a positive impact on overall human health. Herbs rouse the brain to increase the production of happy hormones like serotonin naturally, reduce the risk of certain chronic illnesses and even improve skin health.
The branch of Ayurveda teaches that even simple herbs can help retain emotional equilibrium by balancing our manovaha srotas (mental channels). So, it's up to us to maximize the happy hormones by including in our diet anything from herbal teas to seasoning our favorite savory dishes with mood-enlivening herbs like basil, triphala, ashwagandha (winter cherry), coriander, fenugreek and oregano.
Experts advise learning to alternate the baskets of grains, microgreens, fruits and vegetables. Each food type has a distinct nutritional composition. So, rotating the same will increase the diversity of nutrients to retain mental and physical fitness. “For example, one day you might have whole wheat roti, followed by jowar roti, bajra roti (in fact, the United Nations declared 2023 as the international year of millets) or grain daliya. Similarly, if you are having tur dal on a day’s menu, try chhole, rajma, masoor dal, sprouts ussal (a Maharashtrian dish concocting peas, lentils, black-eyed beans, matki, moong or hyacinth beans), soya chunks or tofu the next day. This way, you're not restricting yourself to the same nutrients from the same grains every day,” notes eminent nutritionist Niharikka Budhwani, also the founder of Health Hatch.
The way to a happy frame of mind is through our gut, which is like a second brain. It is inseparably linked to our mental health. Good mood foods that help improve brain health include almonds, chickpeas, broccoli, barley, kiwi, garlic, oats, brown rice and soy, among others. Numerous studies have proved time and again that a plant-based diet curbs depressive symptoms, such as mood swings. Diets devoid of fiber and antioxidants intensify anxiety and depression.
Famous chef and digital content creator Sanjyot Keer lays an emphasis on going back to the roots and discovering the basics to bolster our mind and body. “Our traditional culture is steeped in a myriad of restorative herbs and home remedies carrying therapeutic properties that our ancestors would unforgettably pluck from the backyards or their kitchen gardens for cure. This was like an age-old customary practice,” observes the founder of Your Food Lab.
“Switching to a vegetarian diet with tonnes of greens is a healthy choice. A green diet is believed to help recover faster from ailments and also cheer up your mood,” observes chief dietician Sushma PS of Jindal Naturecure Institute, Bangalore.
Fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, sprouted cereals, juices, salads, boiled food, veg soups, et al should be part of your everyday diet, depending on health needs. Spinach, lettuce, watercress, arugula, chard and kale are high in folate and magnesium, and effectively decrease anxiety. Meals with a great proportion of omega-3 fatty acids and dark greens galore are beneficial to the brain. Also, nuts, seeds and legumes like beans and lentils are amply good for brain health.
“A healthy diet is conducive to a strong physical constitution. Nutrient-dense foods develop ‘good’ bacteria, which like factories produce enzymes, accelerating metabolism or chemical reactions in the body,” states reputed diet consultant Hari Lakshmi of Motherhood Hospitals, Chennai. The benign bacteria keep the gut healthy and produce neurochemicals like dopamine, leaving a favorable impact on the brain.
Foods that elevate mood
Bananas: The fruit is high in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Apples: This juicy fruit comprises manganese that is proven to lower bouts of depression. In addition, apples can spike dopamine levels. Lack of adequate dopamine induces frequent mood swings, difficulty in focusing, fatigue, anxiety and compulsive overeating.
Oats: This cereal plant provides fiber to stabilise blood sugar levels and boost the mood. Packed with generous amounts of iron, oats improve mood symptoms of those suffering anemia due to iron deficiency.
Nuts and Seeds: Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc and are vital memory enhancers. Walnuts are a chief source of omega-3 and other nutrients that boost memory and brain function.
Berries: Blueberries and strawberries contain high doses of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that aids brain cognition. Flavonoids protect brain cells from radical damages too.
Broccoli: This wholesome green or purple veggie boasts of tons of nutrients, including stress-fighting B vitamins and folic acid (a member of the vitamin B family).
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