Jesse Haas is a heart-centered, licensed functional nutritionist and co-founder of Wellness Minneapolis. She takes a holistic and personalized approach to her nutrition counseling, helping put the pieces of her clients’ health narratives into actionable, sustainable goals. Using nutrition education, health coaching and mind-body medicine, she helps her clients transform their health one meal at a time.
Food habits have a way of either helping us face our mental and emotional challenges or making them more challenging. As Northerners face winter — and the seasonal depression that often accompanies it — here are my top five mood superfoods to shore up a positive outlook through the cold and dark months.
Everything in the produce department
This department is your medicine cabinet! In addition to being packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, fruits and veggies contain magical chemicals called phytonutrients that feed your brain. Work these ingredients into every meal, aiming to fill half your plate with a colorful variety of yum. My favorite mood-boosting veggies are brassicas (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, etc.) and alliums (garlic, onions, leeks), all of which support balance in our bodies by promoting detoxification. Dark berries (fresh or frozen) are always on hand in my house for their delicious anti-inflammatory contributions.
90% of serotonin is produced in the gut by the community of bacteria and yeast (aka microbiome) living there. Feed your microbiome with fermented vegetables; miso, tofu and tempeh; kombucha and yogurts. Probiotic supplements are also a good option, but they don’t add nearly as much flavor to your day!
Cold-water fatty fish
There’s a good acronym for the best fish options — SMASH. Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring are highest in mood-boosting omega-3 fats and lowest in environmental contaminants like mercury. Aim for three servings a week. Fish oil supplements have also shown promise in preventing and treating depression.
Low vitamin D status is directly related to seasonal depression. From approximately Labor Day to Memorial Day, the UV-B rays we need to make vitamin D do not penetrate our atmosphere this far north of the equator. Additionally, it’s not abundant in foods. This is one supplement I recommend to everyone who comes to see me at Wellness Minneapolis.
This one never wins me popularity points, but liver (from healthy animals raised on pastures) is a powerful superfood. Iron deficiency can manifest as depression, anxiety or even poor concentration, and liver is an iron-packed food. Yes, you can get iron from beef and turkey, but liver really is the nutritional bee’s knees.
Bonus tip: Acts of kindness
This is a superfood for the soul! There is no single thing you can do to lift your mood that will work better than doing something nice for someone else. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of distance between us and our loved ones. Take a moment and write down three things you can do for the people in your life that will bring a smile to their hearts. Now go do them!