Featured article in the Summer 2018 Issue of Nutrition Close-Up; written by Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC
After months of little sunlight and low temperature, many of us are thankful that summer is finally here. A new season is a great time to evaluate your wellness routine, but it can also be overwhelming as we adjust to light and weather changes and navigate that push-pull feeling of wanting to dive into a new season while still having to tie up loose ends from the previous one. Packing our schedules with summer activities can also lead to feeling scattered – and stressed.
We hear a lot about what not to eat, but how about focusing on what foods can help us feel well and stay grounded?
Maintaining good blood sugar control is key. Eating balanced meals and snacks throughout the day that provide a combination of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats helps ensure that those meals break down more slowly, as opposed to the crash-and-burn we get from empty carbs or super-restrictive regimens.1
There are also certain nutrients in foods that can impact our body’s stress response and brain function to help support a better mood,2 which is essential for dealing effectively with stress. Because many mood-regulating neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, nourishing digestive health also helps support a stable mood and strong immune system.
Here are the foods I commonly recommend to help you feel more grounded.
Eggs provide a satiating combination of protein and fat and include optimal amounts of the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin.3 While the whites contain roughly 60 percent of the egg’s protein, the yolks are where you’ll find most of the good stuff, like Vitamins A, D, and K, plus choline, an important nutrient for brain function.4 You’ll also find some cortisol-taming omega-3s in there,5 which have been studied for their impact on mood.6 Enjoy on toast, on a salad, or on their own. Omelets and frittatas also make a great vehicle for seasonal vegetables.
The probiotic bacteria in yogurt help support immune function and clear communication between the gut and the brain.7,8 Yogurt is also a great source of protein. Go for unflavored varieties to save yourself the sugar, which can mess with your blood glucose levels and tack on excess calories that aren’t doing you favors. Enjoy with ground flax for additional fiber and plant-based omega-3s.
Working some slow-burning complex carbohydrates like oats into your day supports efficient production of serotonin.9 Oats also include optimal amounts of tryptophan. What’s more, the fiber in oats promotes regular digestion, and certain fibers in oats (“prebiotics”) even serve as food for probiotic bacteria.10 Start your day with oats topped with seasonal fruit like strawberries or apricots, and nuts or nut butter to add protein and “good” fats. Another delicious idea is to cook an egg into oats – once you try it you’ll never go back.
Leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, a B-vitamin that’s key for efficient production of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine.11 Enjoy a big spinach salad or add spinach to smoothies, soups, pasta and grain dishes, and eggs. Some other greens to try are kale, arugula, chard, and dandelion greens.
Avocados offer up a delicious combination of “good” monounsaturated fats, plus filling fiber. Enjoy in a salad, with eggs, on top of a grain bowl, or even eaten right from the skin with a spoon.
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, INHC is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping people streamline their wellness routine and establish a balanced relationship with food and exercise. Through her writing, consulting, public speaking, and counseling, she works with individuals, corporations, and the media to help make drama-free healthy living approachable and enjoyable.
- Kamada I, et al. The impact of breakfast in metabolic and digestive health. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench. 2011 Spring; 4(2): 76–85.
- Wolniczak I, et al. Fruits and vegetables consumption and depressive symptoms: A population-based study in Peru.PLoS One. 2017 Oct 12;12(10):e0186379.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Basic Report: 01123
- US DHHS NIH. Choline Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.
- Grosso G, et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014; 2014: 313570.
- Grosso G, et al. Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: a comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLoS One. 2014 May 7;9(5):e96905.
- US DHHS NIH. Probiotics: In Depth. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
- Kim N, et al. Mind-altering with the gut: Modulation of the gut-brain axis with probiotics. Journal of Microbiology. 2018;56:172-182.
- Wurtman RJ, et al. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression. Obes Res. 1995;4:477S-480S.
- Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2013;5:1417-1435.
- Miller AL. The methylation, neurotransmitter, and antioxidant connections between folate and depression. Altern Med Rev. 2008;13:216-26.