We all struggle with making the right food choices and we know what what we eat affects how we feel. It's often easy to pick the quick and unhealthy option, and even easier to overlook how much food impacts your mental and emotional state. But what if you could eat specific foods just like you take certain medicines when you have a headache or a fever? What if you could treat symptoms of anxiety and depression through a plant-based diet?

You can.

Think about the last time you ate fast food or something really processed. Maybe it was late night pizza or drive-through burger with fries. Shortly after you probably felt physically kinda gross and sluggish. Maybe you even noticed that your mood took a turn for the worst too. Why?

What you eat affects both the body and the mind. 

In fact, the health of your brain pretty much depends on the health of your gut. Think of it this way, a healthy gut = a healthy mind. The gut even has its own nervous system, which sends signals to the brain through this long nerve in your spine called the vagus nerve. This is why you feel nauseous before something stressful like a big presentation or exam.

So how do you keep your gut healthy so you can keep your brain healthy? lt really only takes a few eating habit adjustments. Try adding these 5 gut-friendly, anxiety and depression-fighting foods into your everyday meals and snacks. These foods paired with 30 minutes of movement each day (cardio regenerates brain cells!) will create a significant difference in how you feel -- both body and mind.

1. Flaxseed
Flax seeds, chia seeds, and nuts (especially walnuts) are rich Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial in supporting overall brain function because your nervous system is made out of mostly fat. The signals from your brain -- your thoughts, feelings, instruction for muscles and organs -- literally travel from cell to cell along a membrane of fatty acid. This kind of fat cannot be produced by your body so you need to incorporate it into your diet to keep those signals moving smoothly. You can easily increase your Omega-3 fatty acid intake by throwing some flax seeds or chia seeds into a quick smoothie or snacking on nuts through out the day.

2. Spinach
Mom was right all along about making sure you eat your greens. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, romaine and collards are also packed with Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium. Magnesium stimulates GABA (a neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system and reduces anxiety) receptors in the brain. Magnesium also restricts cortisol (stress hormone) which in excess contributes to anxiety, depression and even memory loss. So make sure to get your GABA in by filling up on big salads full of spinach or even throw some leafy greens on your favorite sandwich!

3. Banana + Peanut Butter
Not only are they a match made in snack heaven, but bananas and peanut butter contain a lot of tryptophan -- yep, that same amino acid found in turkey! Tryptophan converts to serotonin (a neurotransmitter that boosts mood, sometimes better known as the "happiness hormone") thus foods that have lots of tryptophan can boost your mood. To incorporate more tryptophan into your diet, eat lots of bananas, oats, soy, nuts, nut butters, and sesame seeds.

4. Beans
Beans and other legumes are rich in Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins. These B vitamins help convert tryptophan into serotonin (mood boosting neurotransmitter) thus aiding digestion, boosting mood, energy and brain function. Do you need a better excuse to break out the taco shells and have a bean-filled Mexican dinner? Taco Tuesday anyone?

5. Mushrooms
These tasty fungi are the only plant-based food naturally packed with Vitamin D. Like us, mushrooms produce Vitamin D when in sunlight. Vitamin D activates genes that regulate the immune system and release dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters directly related happiness and pleasure). While sunlight is still the best source of vitamin D (but don't forget to lather up in sunscreen!) you can get it through eating mushrooms and even your favorite nut milks. Time to get outside and throw some portobello burgers on the grill!

 If you're interested in learning more about working together, contact Charlotte Counseling and Wellness.

Hope Hellwege-Bales