We’re about to confirm what you’ve known forever: Carbs make us feel happier.
WHAT. I know. It’s true! Carbohydrate-rich foods increase the levels of serotonin, aka the happiness receptor, in the brain. It totally explains why we crave a bagel after giving an important presentation, or why we treat ourselves to a sugary cookie (or five) after a stressful day at work.
Here’s the thing—loading up on carbs to help boost those serotonin levels doesn’t work in the long run. Eating too many carbs, especially the highly processed kind, can make mood swings even worse. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips next time you’re stressed, grab one of these healthier options. They’ll help your body respond to stress in a healthy way, and they won’t mess with your waistline.
That carb-y, starchy, sweetness you’re totally craving? Sweet potatoes deliver, without spiking blood sugar levels crazy-high. And depending on your cravings, you can customize your toppings. Can’t stop thinking about fries? Melt some grass fed ghee and sprinkle Maldon salt on your spud. To satisfy a sweet tooth, drizzle honey and cinnamon over a baked sweet potato and top with a dash of coconut cream for a healthier take on pumpkin pie.
Ditch your usual cup of coffee—which can push already-frazzled nerves to their breaking point and seriously mess with your adrenal system when you’re stressed—and opt for green tea. A cuppa contains the amino acid L-theanine, which has been scientifically proven to help lower anxiety. It’s also thought to have a stronger positive effect when combined with caffeine, making green tea the ideal anti-anxiety drink!
Permission to eat your bodyweight in guacamole, granted. Avocados contain potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins, and folate—nutrients that are incredibly important for optimal brain function and for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Surprisingly, avocados are really incredibly high in fiber; just one contains nearly 13 grams, which is more than half the daily recommended intake. Fiber keeps blood sugar stable throughout the day, preventing mood swings and energy crashes.
Truly, is there anything dark chocolate can’t do? Raw cacao contains antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage that can be caused by anything from sun exposure, to pollution, to stress. And cacao contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that blocks feelings of pain and depression. One caveat: These special antioxidants lose their power when exposed to dairy. Get extra dark chocolate to reap all the benefits.
Trader Joe’s trailmix, FTW! (We’ll take the one with all the dried cranberries and peanut butter cups, thanks.) Nuts can save your mental game in so many different ways, especially during super stressful times. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids reduce the inflammation that crops up when cortisol levels rise, and fiber contributes to feelings of satiety so you’re less likely to snack later.
Maybe it’s our kombucha addiction talking, but we definitely feel a little more zen when we sip on the fermented tea. Perhaps we can thank the beneficial probiotic bacteria found in kombucha and other fermented foods for those good vibes. Research shows that there is, indeed, a correlation between gut health and mental health. The “gut” refers to the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Doctors have found that when there’s something off in the gut—like an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria, or not enough of the right type of probiotic organisms—it often affects a person’s mental health status, making them more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. But when once the gut flora is healthy and balanced, mental health improves. So keep sipping on the ‘booch, and maybe start taking a regular probiotic when you know you’re going to be under more stress than usual.