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Nutrition

Eating These 6 Foods Improves Mental Health

Munch your troubles away.

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Do you get hungry when you’re stressed? Good news: Some foods can fill you up and calm you down. And aside from boosting your mental health, these foods are also good for your physical health. And they’re yummy to boot. Check out these tasty, healthy snacks that will take you from rattled to relaxed.

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Apples activate the stamina enzyme.

They’re not just seasonal favorites — apples are nature’s number-one source of a sweet-tart compound (malic acid) that energizes cellular mitochondria, prompting them to quickly burn food to release the energy enzyme ATP. No wonder French scientists say biting into a crisp apple (whatever variety you love!) can send focus, stamina, and can-do spirit soaring by 34 percent.

Bell peppers calm overworked adrenal glands.

Who doesn’t love a cheery pop of color — and flavor — in dishes like salads and stir-fries? Now, University of Georgia research suggests enjoying a heaping cup of bell peppers (any color) daily could cut your tension, edginess and anxiety by 72 percent. Credit goes to the peppers’ rich stores of plant compounds (carotenoids) that tamp down the adrenal glands’ release of the stress hormone cortisol.

Peanut butter puts the brakes on anxiety surges.

Go ahead and indulge in a favorite from your childhood. Snacking on three tablespoons of natural peanut butter (or a heaping ⅓ cup of peanuts) daily can cut your risk of chronic stress and anxiety. Scientists in the European Journal of Nutrition credit the mix of healthy plant fats and protein in peanuts with being able to quickly calm the amygdala, the brain’s anxiety center.

Spinach boosts contentment.

You knew spinach was good for your body, but it’s good for your mental health too. The leafy green brims with magnesium, vitamin K, and beta-carotene, a nutrient trio that studies show activates genes that produce the antidepressant compound glutamate. Enjoy one cup of raw — or ½ cup of cooked — spinach daily, and you’ll feel calmer and more content.

Potatoes power up feel-good serotonin.

The right-now Rx for rattled nerves? Savoring a yummy baked potato or a few hot, crispy fries. Your brain uses spuds’ tryptophan, an amino acid, to build the calming hormone serotonin. More good news: Australian researchers say your digestive tract also converts tryptophan into serotonin, so you’ll feel more relaxed in minutes.

Cocoa releases the happy hormone.

You’ve probably noticed that you feel calmer and happier when you treat yourself to a brownie or savor your favorite chocolate candy, and Korean researchers have figured out why: Cocoa is packed with compounds (flavonoids) that increase the brain’s production of mood-boosting dopamine—often within seconds of the first bite. Chocolate is good for your mental health — talk about good news!

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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