According to mainstream media the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year. It even has it’s own name: Blue Monday. In fact January is thought to be the most depressing month of the year. Whether it be unscientific bunk or hold a shred of truth, you can ready yourself to endure these cold, dark days by filling your fridge, and stomach, with good foods for your mood.
Beets, along with arugula, celery, kale and watercress are a rich source of dietary nitrates. These natural nitrates improve blood flow throughout the body and, importantly, to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain which is involved with cognition and executive function. Studies have shown improved cognitive performance after consumption of these brain-boosting foods. As an added bonus, the nitrates help dilate blood vessels which reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow to muscles resulting in improved physical stamina and endurance.
Low levels of these essential fatty acids have been associated with an increased risk of depression. A 2015 review of 26 studies found that omega 3 fatty acids had a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression compared to a placebo.
Omega 3s are highly concentrated in the brain and help keep the brain cell membranes fluid. Cell membrane fluidity is crucial for enhancing swift communication between neurons.
Sardines, salmon and walnuts are also a good source of zinc which is involved in sleep regulation. Sufficient sleep is imperative in warding off the blues. Low levels of zinc have also been associated with increased risk of depression and mood disorders.
It is important to consider one’s overall diet in relation to reducing the risk of any disease including mood disorders. Adding isolated foods or nutrients to a mediocre diet is unlikely to yield positive results. However, improving one’s long-term eating pattern can reduce the risk of developing lifestyle diseases and depression.
A 2013 study revealed that women who regularly ate inflammatory foods were 41% more likely to suffer from depression. Inflammatory foods include:
- Refined sugars; (pop, desserts, candy, cookies)
- Processed and refined grains (white bread, pasta, crackers, and more);
- Animal fats; red meat
- Food Allergens (hidden food allergies cause body and brain inflammation)
Quercetin is a phytochemical that acts as a natural anti-depressant as it down-regulates inflammatory pathways. Apples, kale, berries, grapes, onion, and green tea are all great sources of quercetin.
Other foods rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients include olive oil, turmeric, ginger, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and plant protein like edamame, chickpeas and lentils.
Reducing the amount of pop, sugar, flour, and processed meats in your diet and eating an abundance of fresh, unprocessed vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes is a great way to improve both physical and mental health. Try the recipe below for generous helping of anti-inflammatory nutrients including omega 3 fatty acids.
MAKES 2 SERVINGS
- 1 lemon, freshly squeezed juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (separated into single teaspoons)
- Pinch of sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely diced cornichon
- 1 sprig of celery, diced
- Sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley
- 1 can sardines, drained
- Bunch of kale, washed, dried & shredded (or use baby kale leaves)
Mix 4 teaspoons of lemon juice, the zest, mustard, 1 tsp of olive oil salt, pepper, green onion, cornichon, celery and parsley together in a bowl. Add the sardines and flake them into chunky pieces with a fork. Stir gently to combine. Place shredded kale in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tsp of olive oil. Massage oil into kale with hands. Place sardines on top and toss all together. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to finish, if desired.
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