This article first appeared on Chalkboard Mag.
Mental health is being discussed more and more these days, which we embrace and celebrate. But mental health doesn’t only mean feeling stable under stress or balanced when things in life go awry, it actually refers to the physical health of the brain overall.
Dr. Amen is our go-to for all things brain health-related. His cutting-edge work with brain scans and nutrition research was once considered fringe but has now found it’s rightful place at the forefront of the national discussion on brain health. According to Dr. Amen, “brain imaging research demonstrates that memory loss actually starts in the brain decades before you have any symptoms. There are actions you can take to help prevent memory loss later in life – and even to restore the memory you may have already lost.”
In his latest book, Memory Rescue, Dr. Amen outlines a number of foods that support the health of the brain in a variety of areas. The list below are foods to address mood-specific issues like sleep, anxiety, depression and attention issues. For the full story, pick up Memory Rescue, which we’ve honestly read cover to cover.
He also highlights foods to avoid for optimal brain health, namely: pro-inflammatory foods like processed oils and sugars, alcohol, aspartame (found in diet sodas and gums) and caffeine.
Here are all the foods Dr. Amen names as beneficial for supporting mental health through our diet…
The Best Foods For Mental Health
SPICES TO SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH: saffron, turmeric (curcumin), saffron plus curcumin, peppermint (for attention), cinnamon (for attention, ADHD, irritability).
DOPAMINE-RICH FOODS for focus and motivation: turmeric, theanine from green tea, lentils, fish, lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, nuts and seeds (pumpkin and sesame), high protein veggies (such as broccoli and spinach), protein powders.
SEROTONIN-RICH FOODS for mood, sleep, pain and craving control: Combine tryptophan-containing foods, such as eggs, turkey, seafood, chickpeas, nuts and seeds (building blocks for serotonin), with healthy carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and quinoa, to elicit a short-term insulin response that drives tryptophan into the brain. Dark chocolate also increases serotonin.
GABA-RICH FOODS for anti-anxiety: broccoli, almonds, walnuts, lentils, bananas, beef liver, brown rice, halibut, gluten-free whole oats, oranges, rice bran, spinach.
CHOLINE-RICH FOODS: shrimp, eggs, scallops, sardines, chicken, turkey, tuna, cod, beef, collard greens, Brussels sprouts.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: up to 8 a day helps moods.
GREEN TEA: learn more here.
OMEGA-3-RICH FOODS to support nerve cell membranes and serotonin. Helps manage moods and inflammation.
ANTIOXIDANT-RICH FOODS: acai fruit, parsley, cocoa powder, raspberries, walnuts, blueberries, artichokes, cranberries, kidney beans, blackberries, pomegranates, chocolate, olive, and hemp oil (not for cooking at high temperatures), dandelion green and green tea.
MAGNESIUM-RICH FOODS for anxiety: pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, sesame seeds, beet greens, summer squash, quinoa, black beans, and cashews.
ZINC-RICH FOODS: oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, asparagus, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
VITAMIN B6, B12, FOLATE-RICH FOODS: leafy greens, cabbage, bok choy, bell peppers, cauliflower, lentils, asparagus, garbanzo beans, spinach, broccoli, parsley, cauliflower, salmon, sardines, lamb, tuna, beef, and eggs.
PREBIOTIC-RICH FOODS: dandelion greens, asparagus, chia seeds, beans, cabbage, psyllium, artichokes, raw garlic, onions, leeks, root vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, squash, jicama, beets, carrots, turnips).