Even with its gorgeous foliage and festivities, autumn triggers anxietyand depression for many people. The shorter days and lack of sunlight affect our circadian rhythms; we feel the stress of upcoming holidays; and the claustrophobia of winter is lurking around the corner. I’m not a dietitian, but I’ve learned a lot from experts about food and mood, and I’ve learned what works for me. Mother Nature fortunately has done her part in providing many foods and spices during this season that can aid our sanity. From enjoying freshly picked apples to munching on dry pumpkin seeds, autumn is full of good-mood foods that can help us enjoy the season.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are one of Mother Nature’s most potent mood boosters. They’re chock-full of zinc(containing 23 percent of our daily recommended value in just one ounce), which Emily Deans, MD, calls an “essential mineral for resiliency” in her Psychology Today blog Zinc: An Antidepressant. The mineral also increases our ability to fight off inflammation, which can cause depression and anxiety. In addition, it’s rich in magnesium, our calming nutrient: According to a 2012 study in the journal Neuropharmacology, magnesium deficiencies induce anxiety, which is why the mineral is known as the original chill pill.
Squash was already one of my favorite fall foods before I knew it was packed full of mood-boosting ingredients. Just one cup of butternut squash contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of magnesium, 17 percent of potassium, and 18 percent of manganese — all critical minerals to keep you sane. One cup also contains a whopping 52 percent of vitamin C, which gives a helping hand to our immune system and to our entire central nervous system.
Cinnamon was used as early as 2000 BC in ancient Egypt to treat a host of different health conditions. A study at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, showed that even smelling cinnamon enhanced cognitive performance. The spice is especially good for anxiety and depression because it helps regulate blood sugar. And one teaspoon provides 22 percent of the daily recommended value of manganese, a critical trace mineral that helps with nerve function and connective tissues, aiding the central nervous system in general. In addition, it plays a role in neutralizing free radicals that can damage cell membranes and DNA.
If you’re fretting about all the family drama that happens at Thanksgiving, rest assured that the turkey will be helping you stay sane. It’s a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which helps your body produce the feel-good chemical serotonin.
I throw the spice turmeric into the fall foods category because I start experimenting with it once the weather turns cool. This yellow spice that we eat in different kinds of curry contains a natural anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin, that helps mitigate depression and anxiety. The abstract from a 2014 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders reads:
“Curcumin, the principal curcuminoid derived from the spice turmeric, influences several biological mechanisms associated with major depression, namely those associated with monoaminergic activity, immune-inflammatory and oxidative and nitrosative stress pathways, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity and neuroprogression. We hypothesised that curcumin would be effective for the treatment of depressive symptoms in individuals with major depressive disorder.”
As I mentioned in my blog 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression, apples are high in antioxidants, which can help to prevent and repair oxidative damage and inflammation on the cellular level. They’re also full of soluble fiber , which balances blood sugar swings. One of my favorite fall snacks is some almond butter on apple slices, so I get my omega-3 fatty acids along with some fiber.
In addition to being a good source of fiber, copper, vitamin B1, and manganese, eggplant also contains important phytonutrients, including phenolic compounds and flavonoids, that are potent antioxidants. One study found that anthocyanin phytonutrients in the skin of eggplants, called nasunin, protects brain cell membranes from damage by zapping free radicals and guarding the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes.
8. Sweet Potato
Just one baked sweet potato provides 214 percent of our daily recommended value of vitamin A (an antioxidant superpower), 52 percent of our vitamin C, and 50 percent of our manganese. This healthy starch is also full of copper, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin, and potassium — all very helpful in fighting depression and anxiety. Sweet potatoes contain anthocyanin pigments and other flavonoids that have been shown in studies to have strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. According to one study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology:
“Because of their diverse physiological activities, the consumption of anthocyanins may play a significant role in preventing lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases.”
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