We all know that eating well helps us stay fit and healthy in a physical sense, but often we overlook the effects that our diet plays on our mental health. Too many of us (and I hold my hands up here too) ignore the consequences diet, stress and environment have on our mental well being.

However, there is enough evidence out there to prove that there is a link between certain foods and our emotions. Food affects our chemical balance and metabolic rates, which in turn means that our emotions can change drastically depending on the food we eat.

As a long time sufferer of depression, I’ve often been a keen believer in the positive effects of a good diet on mental health.

Here are 6 of my favorite foods that I’ve used to help boost my emotional and spiritual state.

1. Legumes

This is a pretty broad food type so let me be more specific: I’m talking beans, peas or peanuts. These foods are rich in magnesium, which increases your energy levels and keeps you feeling rejuvenated.

On top of this, they aid the production of neurotransmitters, which help in boosting cognitive abilities and mental strength. Studies show that consuming 150 milligrams of magnesium a day can help boost your brain power.

Food tip: Add peas and chickpeas to a salad or as a side dish for the perfect brain-boosting compliment to your dinner!

2. Walnuts

Walnuts help your body generate serotonin, which is a brain chemical that positively affects mood, memory and brain function. Each gram of walnuts can yield 87 micrograms of of the brain-boosting chemical.

As well as being a brain superfood, they’re great at staving off hunger mid-morning, and are a brilliant energy source.

Food tip: Have a bag of walnuts at hand while you work for a mood-lifting and energy-punching supersnack.

3. Dark Chocolate

You might be hearing alarm bells at the mere mention of chocolate here. However, let’s be clear: I’m talking about the dark (and healthier) variety here.

While the physical health benefits of dark chocolate have long been up for debate, its effects on the mind are significant. It has been found to improve mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. 85% dark chocolate actually contains serotonin itself, and also contains carbohydrates in the form of sugar, which will further boost your serotonin levels – although all in moderation, my friend!

Fun fact: Eating about an ounce and a half of the dark stuff daily for two weeks has been proven to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Now I think we can all get on board with that.

Food tip: Have just a square of dark chocolate with your mid-afternoon coffee to help quell your sweet cravings, as well as lift your mood.

4. Fish

A lot of people seem to write off fish quite broadly, but it’s my favorite food and I think for good reason.

Diets containing omega-3 foods such as salmon, tuna and mackerel have long been linked to strong mental health. So much so in fact that now omega-3 fats, often found in fish, are now even considered as ‘complementary therapy’ for major depressive disorders.

Food tip: Vegetarian or vegan? No problem. Flaxseed is a brilliant source of omega-3, and can easily be incorporated in your smoothies, yogurts and oatmeal.

5. Turmeric

Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin which gives it its bright yellow and orange color. Incidentally, curcumin is great at battling depression: It helps acts against the inflammatory responses associated with poor mental health, while also encourages the neurotrophic factors that are responsible for the growth of nerve cells.

Food tip: Give turmeric tea a go. It’s a mix of ground turmeric, honey, hot water and almond milk. It might sound odd, but it’s a beautiful evening brew.

6. Spinach

Ah, the food of Popeye. Spinach is rich in folate and Vitamin B6. This vitamin helps the body by maintaining low homocysteine levels (this is a type of amino acid produced in the body). If homocysteine is produced in high levels, it can trigger depression, particularly in women. Vitamin B helps in the production of adrenalin, which in turn, controls how your body will react to stress.

Food tip: If like me, you’re a smoothie-making machine, then give spinach a go in your next mix. A handful of spinach leaves can work surprisingly well when blended with berries, citrus fruits or milk.
And there you have it! My favorite six foods that keep my mind and mood in order. Please do let me know in the comments what foods you use to keep you mentally focused and content.