Mac and cheese, pizza, cookies, wine, lattes — these are the foods we crave when we’re looking to get over a bad breakup or curb seasonal depression. But deep down, we all know cutting sugar, carbs, caffeine, and alcohol from our diets is really the way to feel happier and healthier. No one believes this more than Neka Pasquale, nutritionist, acupuncturist, and founder of Urban Remedy, a plant-based organic national meal delivery service. She provides her clients (including Cindy Crawford and Josie Maran, NBD) with clean-eating programs that target their health concerns — whether it’s helping someone who is pre-diabetic adopt a low-glycemic diet or developing a cabbage juice cleanse to cure someone suffering from heartburn and ulcers. So, we came to Neka with a simple question: What five foods would you feed us to help us feel happy?
1. Cacao: Soo… definitely chocolate, right?! Not quite, says Neka. “As much as munching on a chocolate bar promotes feel-good sentiments, studies have shown that cacao’s benefits are only available in its raw form, and the addition of dairy may inhibit or block the absorption of the antioxidants.” She suggests nibbling on dried cacao nibs as a snack or adding raw cacao powder to a nut milk for a healthy alternative to chocolate milk.
2. Black Sesame Seeds: When Neka started studying traditional Chinese medicine years ago, she was astounded at how eating certain foods can prevent, treat, and cure diseases. “Each food has a taste, temperature, associated organ, and medicinal property” that work to keep your mind and body happy, she explains. Black sesame seeds can help calm anxiety, relax the nervous system, and treat depression, as these ailments are “commonly related to deficient kidney energy, and black sesame seeds strengthen kidney energy.” She adds that black sesame seeds are high in zinc, “which has been shown to help fight depression.” So sprinkle a handful on top of your lunch salads for extra crunch and happiness.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: “Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, flax seeds, and walnuts are rich in mood boosters, which affect serotonin and dopamine” levels in your brain, making you feel happier and more alert, Neka says. She especially loves grilling fresh salmon, since it “also contains vitamin B-12, which can help the production of serotonin.”
4. Chickpeas: Hummus lovers, rejoice! Chickpeas stimulate the release of dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel good, Neka says. The versatile bean is also “rich in magnesium, vitamin B-6, and manganese nutrients that can help reduce irritability, fight depression, and support healthy dopamine levels.” Neka prefers eating her feel-good foods in their purest, raw forms, so in addition to hummus, she also suggests throwing some raw chickpeas into a soup or salad.
5. Kefir: There is mounting scientific evidence that links our gut health to our mental health. “Having a healthy gut supports a healthy immune system and can help prevent and treat depression,” Neka says. And since Kefir, a fermented milk drink, contains between 10 and 34 strains of probiotics, it helps “support the growth of healthy gut organisms,” that will, in turn, make you feel happier.
What foods make you feel like your best self? Tweet us @BritandCo and let us know your favorite healthy picks for happiness!
(Photos via Thayer Gowdy, Getty)