We're currently reading This Is Your Brain On Food by Harvard-trained psychiatrist and nutrition expert Dr. Uma Naidoo. It's all about the gut-brain connection and how important food ties into our mental health. She breaks down different diagnoses from depression to bipolar through the lens of the research that's being done in this area. It's fascinating! Highly recommend if you're interested in this connection between food and wellbeing.
There are multiple functions involved when we talk about stress management and the body including the thyroid, endocrine system, adrenal glands, nervous system, which all have an influence on our blood sugar, energy production, circadian rhythm, and hormone regulation (i.e. our alert hormone = cortisol, and, our sleepy hormone = melatonin).
Each function requires nutrients to fulfill its duty, but because our body’s #1 priority is to keep us alive, it will still fulfill its duty even when it’s deficient in the needed nutrients — it just won't be as good of a job. As a result, we might experience stress, brain fog, forgetfulness, lack of mental alertness, afternoon drowsiness, “wired and tired” at night, and/or feel like we’re dragging ourselves out of bed in the morning.
In this spirit, here are 10 foods and herbs that help the manage stress, boost energy, and focus:
1. Fermented foods
It is now widely understood in that gut health is linked to mood. 95% of our serotonin! And! We have more neural pathways from our gut to our brain than vice versa. Foods that are rich in probiotics have shown to improve mood and can help decrease stress and stress hormones like cortisol. We love kimchi, sauerkraut, beet kavas, and natto.
Full of fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, D, calcium, iodine, and tyrosine, these compounds feed our body necessary nutrients, especially those micronutrients that aren't found in a lot of food! Seaweed especially is known to support the thryoid. Add seaweed to your salad or snack on toasted nori sheets.
3. Raw Cacao
Raw cacao is the minimally processed and more nutrient dense cousin of cocoa. High in magnesium, zinc, and theobromine, cacao gives the body a natural energy boost. Cacao has been shown to dilate our blood vessels, increasing blood flow throughout the body, including the brain. Cacao has been revered as a plant to open the heart. Try making raw cacao bliss bites as an afternoon snack.
4. Chamomile, and other nervine teas
There aren't many things more relaxing that a cup of herbal tea. Nervine teas are herbs that specifically help to relax the nervous system. Here are some relaxing herbs: skullcap, lemon balm, lavender, valerian. Our nightly tea blend is: chamomile with holy basil and skullcap!
High in vitamin B’s, vitamin D, probiotics, and beta-glucans, mushrooms support energy production, adrenal function, and healthy gut microbiota. Fun fact: put your mushrooms out in the sun and they'll absorb more vitamin D from the sun!
Are a group of herbs and mushrooms that help the body cope with stress, improving mental clarity, energy levels, and endurance (both physical and mental). Adaptogens are a great way to support your adrenals, immune system, and your body's resilience. Try this adaptogenic nut-butter toast.
7. Omega 3 rich foods
It's been a buzz word for a while, but for good reason. Omega 3 is a key component for cell membrane health, artery wall function, is highly anti-inflammatory, and promote brain health. Go for: cold water fish like salmon, walnuts, chia seed
8. Dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens are packed with nutrients like magnesium, vitamin C, E, & B’s. Folate (B9) supports energy, focus, and easing depression since it's a key nutrient for serotonin synthesis. My go to greens are kale, collard greens, spinach, beet greens.
9. Foods high in vitamin C
Vitamin C is truly a powerhouse due its high antioxidant activity and as a required nutrient for many bodily functions, and even increases our body's ability to absorb iron! Citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, hibiscus, bell peppers are all great sources of this vitamin C. Because vitamin C is heat and light sensitive, try a consuming these items raw. Our favorite? Cold brewed hibiscus tea. Hello summer.
10. Foods high in magnesium
Magnesium is an unsung hero. Involved in over 400 functions, magnesium is the compound that relaxes our heart between beats, relaxes our muscles, relaxes our nervous system, and yes, is a key ingredient for energy production. Magnesium is great to consume before bed to help relax the body and mind. Foods high in this mineral are: spinach, cashews, black beans, quinoa, dark leafy greens.