4 foods that may improve mental well-being

Findings show the ModiMed diet boosts the brain

Increasing research suggests our mental health can be improved with what we eat. The SMILES study published earlier this year found that people already in treatment for depression did better after three months of following a modified Mediterranean (aka ModiMed) diet than the group on medication and therapy alone.

Regardless of your condition, this approach benefits brain health.The ModiMed approach includes plenty of healthy fats, lean proteins to make neurotransmitters, and can reduce inflammation in the brain.  Of the several nutrition strategies listed in the study, there are four ways you can start to adopt the ModiMed approach:

Crack up to 6 eggs a week

Eggs are a good source of lean protein and the yolks contain several key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin E, and choline. Choline in particular is needed for chemical reactions inside the brain as well as neurotransmitter production.  If you are managing your cholesterol levels, your registered dietitian can advise if increasing your egg intake makes sense.

  • Crack eggs into vegetable soup and stir for an added boost of protein and nutrition
  • Make mini-muffin omelettes for quick snack at work or an addition to breakfast
  • Consider ordering shakshuka, a Middle Eastern dish in which eggs are poached in tomato sauce, with cumin and hot pepper flakes
  • Consider a frittata for dinner as an alternative meal for the family

Choose lean, unsweetened dairy

This can include 0-2% milk, yogurt, as well as alternatives such as kefir.  This fermented milk is a good source of calcium, vitamin B12, but also tryptophan and probiotic bacteria.  Trytophan is an amino acid that helps your body produce serotonin.  Serotonin is a mood stabilizing neurotransmitter and low levels of this compound are thought to lead to depression.  On top of that, the majority of our serotonin is produced in our gut – so kefir’s probiotic bacteria helps to support this process on two fronts.

  • Make kefir fruit pops as a treat in popsicle moulds
  • Add kefir to smoothies instead of milk or almond milk for more probiotics
  • Instead of high fat creamy dressings, use kefir as the base to your salad dressings and add dill or peppercorn for flavor, like in this recipe
  • When baking, replace buttermilk with kefir

Don’t shy away from olive oil – up to 3 tablespoons a day

Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, which reduces inflammation and is an antioxidant that helps to protect the brain.  The SMILES trial specified up to 3 tablespoons of oil daily; however, it is best to speak to a dietitian to determine how much fat you require based on your age, physical activity level, and nutrient needs.

  • Use olive oil as a replacement for butter in baked good
  • Replace butter with flavor-infused olive oils as toppings on potato and corn
  • Make homemade pesto with olive oil, pine nuts, and basil
  • In restaurants, instead of charcuterie plates, which are high in saturated fat, salt, and red meat, consider a crudités platter with olives, hummus, vegetables, and whole grain crackers.  Use olive oil as a dip.

Pack a ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds for midday snack

Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium, which is needed for neurotransmission in the brain, and is a co-factor for reactions involving dopamine and serotonin.   The study encouraged one serving per day of nuts or seeds.

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