Heather Caspersen is a certified health coach with a bachelors in health promotion and management. She works for Family Resources of Greater Nebraska and blogs occasionally for livewellenrbaska.com Learn more about Heather here.
You've meditated, journaled, practiced yoga, slept in, avoided alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Your intuition says your life should feel vibrant, complete and filled with an abundance of happiness, yet something is missing. You lack mental clarity.
If you still feel blue, despite working on the spiritual and emotional voids in your life, there may be a neurotransmitter imbalance.
Think of neurotransmitters as “chemical messengers.” Simply put, your brain uses them to tell your body what to do: your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, your stomach to digest, etc. If you're lacking neurotransmitters, or they're out of balance, symptoms can include stress, anxiety, exhaustion, etc.
The solution: Reignite serotonin production. Serotonin is a relaxing hormone that can reduce anxiety's negative effects. It's primarily found in the GI tract and is crucial for mood regulation, happiness and pleasure.
Try incorporating the following foods into your diet to amp up your serotonin levels.
Have you ever noticed that when your body is stressed, you crave carbohydrates? Complex carbs like millet, a nutrient-dense whole grain, help you produce serotonin. Millet's fiber-rich qualities also allow you to absorb it at a much slower pace, prolonging the serotonin boost. For those with low blood sugar, this ensures levels stay in check for longer periods of time.
Quick eat: Cook up some millet and add it to your next batch of taco meat – it will take on the same texture. Make sure to add some extra seasoning to counter-balance the otherwise blandness of this whole grain. I use about-1 cup of cooked millet to 1 pound of ground beef. Click here for more millet recipes,
Collard greens are a rich source of Vitamin C and magnesium, which are both required to convert the amino acids, tryptophan and tyrosine, into serotonin and dopamine, respectively.
Quick Eat: Use collard greens as a wrap. Roll up a mash of 1 baked sweet potato, cup cooked quinoa, cup black beans, 1 tsp cumin, 4 tbsp salsa, 1 minced garlic clove and 1 tsp olive oil. This recipe is good for two collard wraps.
Spaghetti squash contains carotenoids. This powerful antioxidant helps protect the neurotransmitter receptor cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are pesky molecules that can cause damage to your cells, either by “breaking into” the outer protective layer or by “stealing” from other healthy cells.
Quick Eat: Serve spaghetti squash with your favorite spaghetti sauce as a replacement for pasta.
Two words: Omega. 3's. These fatty acids may actually reverse stress symptoms by boosting serotonin and lowering anxiety hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The body doesn't make these fats on its own, so you must get them through food.
Quick Eat: Throw a tablespoon or two of chia seeds in your next smoothie or meatloaf, or simply eat them plain. They have no flavor, making them extremely versatile.
These berries counteract the production of cortisol due to their high potency of antioxidants. Cortisol is the No. 1 chemical released by the adrenal glands during stressful times.
Quick Eat: Add blueberries to plain yogurt and granola. Add a dallop of honey for extra sweetness if you'd like.
Your life will vary based on how well you're eating. So make it a priority to incorporate a few of these “feel good” foods into your diet today. Here's to a blissful, happy winter!