With shorter days, grayer skies, upcoming family gatherings (drama!) and irregular eating from festivities, November can bring on the blues–not to mention the stresses of everyday life. Some of the best ways to ensure that your mood stays constant are regular exercise, practicing gratitude, meditation, and yoga. In addition, make sure you’re eating these mood-boosting foods to keep you calm and happy.
1. Tryptophan, one of nine essential amino acids, triggers the production of serotonin–the mood stabilizing neurotransmitter. It is instrumental in helping you sleep better, elevating your mood, and regulating your appetite. Some symptoms of tryptophan deficiency are anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, weight gain, PMS, impatience, lack of focus, irritability, overeating, poor dream recall, and carbohydrate cravings. Yikes!
Since your body must obtain essential amino acids from diet, and some of the most concentrated sources of tryptophan are animal-based, it is important that vegans try to get it from complete plant proteins. Here are some tryptophan-rich plant sources: soybeans, sesame seeds, chia seeds, dates, bananas, papayas, spirulina, chickpeas, oats, and finally–you’re gonna love this one–dark chocolate. (Hooray!)
2. Carbohydrates are the ultimate anxiety-reducer, crucial for the proper functioning of serotonin–which explains why you crave vegan donuts when you’re upset. Instead of simple, processed carbs that will send you crashing later, choose simply prepared whole grains like spelt, quinoa, or brown rice, and pair with steamed vegetables. Add a bit of simple tahini sauce (whisked with equal parts tahini and water, with a finely minced garlic clove, and some lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste), for a comforting but light dinner.
3. Magnesium, in addition to keeping our bones strong, also reduces inflammation, regulates nervous system health and gives us energy. A deficiency can cause fatigue and depression, so make sure you get enough magnesium from plant sources like pumpkin seeds, almonds, Brazil nuts, spinach, Swiss chard, soy beans, sesame seeds, black beans, spelt, brown rice, green beans, etc. In addition to all these, I like to get my magnesium fill from fortified chocolate almond milk. Which brings us to…
4. Chocolate is everyone’s favorite mood booster for a reason. First, there is the flavor, aroma, and the ritual of eating chocolate, which already have relaxing, therapeutic effect. It also contains phenylethylamine, which is a compound that acts as a neurotransmitter and has stimulating, mood-boosting effects. Dark chocolate is also a source of antioxidants. And let’s not forget that it helps you recover after encountering dementors. Make sure you choose organic and fair trade, and go for at least 70% cocoa content for most health benefits.
5. Drink more water and tea. Chronic dehydration can be an underlying cause of depression, irritation, and fatigue. Make water more fun by adding a squeeze of fresh lemon, or orange slices to give delicate flavor–as well as a dose of Vitamin C. Certain teas will also help combat the blues: chamomile is well known to relax and calm anxieties; hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure; and peppermint will perk you up, sans caffeine.
6. Vitamin C deficiency can cause–you guessed it–depression. Naturally, most vegans eat more fruits and veggies than the average American, but it’s not a bad thing to be mindful of getting more C in your life. Here are some things that contain more Vitamin C than orange, by weight: broccoli, papaya, lychee, strawberry, red pepper, rose hip (drink it as a tea), and currants.
7. What Not to Eat – This is as important as knowing what to eat. Stay away from too much gluten–and yes, even that organic peasant boule with beautiful air bubbles is just as blood-sugar rocking as supermarket bread. Plus, bloating never makes anyone feel happier. Sugary, floury treats like vegan cookies and cakes will get you high for a while, but not for long. I also find that self-medicating with rich desserts is a sure way to feel even worse afterwards. So eat desserts when you’re already happy and celebrating, not when you’re alone and upset (kind of like drinking!). If you must, raw desserts that are date, coconut, or banana-based are great ways to indulge your sweet tooth without getting food coma. Staying away from too much fat and oil is another way to keep your body happy. Instead of French fries, make a baked potato (a source of tryptophan, by the way) and sprinkle with a bit of nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Instead of take out, make your own stir fry which will let you control just how much oil is added.
Also in Healthy Eating: The Daily Grind – Health Benefits of Coffee
More in Happiness: Top 10 Tips to Manage Stress and Build Resilience
Photo: Kevin Trotman; Peaceful Dumpling; Mary Hood; Ilene Godofsky