A whopping 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, a chemical responsible for mood and emotion, is made in the digestive tract. “Diet and mental health are inextricably linked,” says nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo, MD, author of This Is Your Brain on Food and director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Because the gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve, inflammation of the former can affect that of the latter—leading to grogginess, depression, anxiety, and decreased motivation.
- Leafy greens are rich in brain-healthy nutrients such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene—which research suggests helps slow cognitive decline.
- Avocados are packed with tyrosine (a mood-boosting amino acid) and folate (which may ease depression).
- Walnuts contain more brain-healthy compounds than any other nut.
- Beets are high in nitrates, which may increase blood flow to the brain.
- MCTs, the primary fat in coconut oil, have been found to reduce stress and boost cognitive performance.
- Honey’s anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties improve memory and stave off degenerative brain conditions that lead to depression.
- Chamomile extract has been shown to support a reduction in generalized anxiety disorder.
Recipe: Turmeric Salmon with Yogurt Sauce and Avocado-Walnut Salad
- 2 salmon filets
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 medium orange, 1⁄2 cut into rounds and 1⁄2 juiced
Heat oven to 425°. Place salmon fillets in a glass baking dish. Mix together olive oil, turmeric, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and orange juice. Pour over fish and marinate 1–15 minutes. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until crispy and flaky.
- 1 cup plain Greek or nondairy yogurt
- 1 cup parsley, chopped
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Pink Himalayan salt, to taste
Mix until well combined, adjusting seasonings to taste.
- 6 cups spinach
- 1 small avocado, sliced
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- 2 medium beets, diced
- ½ medium orange, peeled and chopped
- 2 tbsp virgin coconut oil, melted
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 2 tsp raw honey
- ½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
- ¼ tsp Pink Himalayan salt
- Pepper, to taste
Heat coconut oil in small saucepan over medium heat or microwave a few seconds, until liquefied. In a Mason jar or other glass dressing vessel, combine coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, orange juice, honey, ginger, and salt. With lid on, shake until well combined. Toss with salad; add salt and pepper to taste.
This story is part of Yoga Journal’s Special Report: How Yoga Can Improve Your Mental Health