In both Ayurvedic philosophy and the broader field of holistic nutrition, food is considered the most effective method of medical treatment. Switching to whole foods and deliberately incorporating key foods and nutrients into your Hawaiian meals can go a long way in treating and even curing a host of medical problems, from physical pain and chronic disease to mental and emotional ailments. The key is to understand exactly what foods will help or harm you based on your unique doshic, metabolic, and genetic makeup.
I have a lot of clients that come to me seeking treatment for poor mood and concentration. Maybe they are experiencing anxiety and depression, or maybe they have difficulty becoming motivated enough to get through their daily lives. Whatever the case, most individuals believe that these ailments can only be relieved through psychiatric medications. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most psychiatric medications are only as effective as placebos, with a success rate of less than 50%. Changing your diet, however, can be a healthy, permanent solution to emotional and cognitive distress that will have positive implications for every aspect of your life—without the troubling side effects. Below we take a look at several foods you can add to your Hawaiian meals to elevate your moods and promote concentration.
Food For Your Brain
There are multiple ways in which food impacts our intellectual capacity and emotional stability. Some foods promote the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine or strengthen neuronal connections. Others contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that promote blood flow to the brain and reduce levels of bodily toxicity, which is a common cause of fatigue and brain fog. Still others contain high levels of micronutrients that lower stress levels and promote relaxation. A diet rich in foods that function in all of these varying capacities is the key to a happy and sharp mind.
Health professionals tout blueberries as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. High in a broad array of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients, blueberries are nutritious, anti-inflammatory, and delicious.
Blueberries are particularly renowned for their cognitive benefits. These small, sweet berries are high in antioxidants called flavonoids that increase blood flow to the brain, boosting memory and cognitive capacity for five hours post-consumption. These antioxidants also protect against cancer and other diseases that result from oxidative stress. Finally, these antioxidants facilitate the production of a hormone called brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF promotes the formation of brain cells, and low levels contribute to mood disorders and neurological malfunction.
Grean tea is an excellent source of clean, even energy. Unlike coffee, which stimulates the production of stress hormones like cortisol, green tea tames markers of inflammation and stress. It contains much lower levels of caffeine than coffee, and boasts an incredible antioxidant profile.
Perhaps the most critical component of green tea in relation to mood and cognition is L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid known to increase alpha-wave activity in the brain. In so doing, this amino acid provides tranquil energy while taming anxiety. It even helps to even out the effects of caffeine, preventing overstimulation and caffeine crashes.
Despite avocados’ size and high fat content, they are actually classified as a berry. Like the other berries we are more familiar with, avocadoes contain beneficial antioxidants and nutrients and increase blood flow to the brain. However, they also contain high levels of monounsaturated fat. These fats are powerfully anti-inflammatory and can thus reduce symptoms like brain fog. Monounsaturated fats also encourage the production of acetylcholine, which is critical for memory and learning. It’s high levels of tyrosine, a precursor to dopamine, promote happiness, alertness, and energy. A popular Hawaiian crop, avocados are accessible and easy to add to Hawaiian meals.
Oily fish are perhaps some of the most powerfully anti-inflammatory and pro-cognitive foods on the planet. Fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which are best known for their ability to tame depression and inflammation. In taming inflammation, they combat inflammation-induced cognitive impairments such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and brain fog. Their high levels of DHA prevent depression, brain shrinkage, and age-related cognitive decline. They also support brain cell production, and strengthen synaptic connections to sharpen cognition, boost mood, and enhance memory. Thankfully for those of us consuming Hawaiian meals, fish is a staple in the Hawaiian diet.
There’s a reason that we crave chocolate: it’s scientifically proven to contain mood boosting and energy enhancing effects. Dark chocolate encourages the release of endorphins, the body’s endogenous morphine. It also contains tryptophan and, thus, facilitates the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation. Though it does contain caffeine, dark chocolate also contains magnesium, a calming micronutrient that balances the energizing effects of caffeine.
Like berries, dark chocolate has an incredible antioxidant profile and thus aids in combatting side effects of inflammation, such as fatigue. The unique antioxidants in dark chocolate also help to decrease cortisol levels, protect the brain, and foster brain plasticity. One antioxidant in particular, phenylethylamine, is commonly known as the “love drug” because of the fluttering happiness it induces.
Nuts and Seeds
Like oily fish, nuts and seeds contain high levels of naturally anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory omega 3’s. Walnuts contain the most concentrated levels of alpha-linoleic acid, the plant-based form of omega 3 fatty acid. Flax seeds, too, are a notable source of omega 3’s. Most nuts are also high in fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent energy crashes; healthy fats, which feed fatty tissues in the brain; B-vitamins, which are critical to energy metabolism; and protein, which is necessary for building neurotransmitters.
Oatmeal contains B-vitamins that help your body metabolize energy more effectively. It also contains a lot of fiber, which digests slowly. The slow release of complex carbohydrates from oatmeal provides a steady source of energy for hours after consumption, promoting concentration and preventing the classic afternoon crash. Oatmeal is also a prebiotic food, meaning that it helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut that can affect mood regulation.
Oatmeal is also a great source of healthy carbohydrates. While the brain absolutely needs fat to thrive and requires protein for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, it also requires carbohydrates for energy. In fact, glucose is the brain’s primary source of energy. Diets that are low in carbs generate higher levels of anxiety, sadness, and anger.
The health benefits of eggs are good news for Big Islanders, as many Hawaiian meals contain egg. Eggs are high in omega 3 acids, and are particularly high in DHA. They are also high in tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, and are a great source of the healthy cholesterol that is necessary for healthy brain function.
Eggs are the world’s greatest source of choline. Choline is one of the building blocks of acetylcholine, which is critical to memory and learning. Choline also enables the production of citicoline, which increases blood flow to the brain and enables the brain to metabolize glucose for fuel.
The final item on our list, sea vegetables like nori and kelp are an often-overlooked source of nutrients that are critical to brain health. Sea vegetables are a critical source of taurine, a pre-cursor to the soothing neurotransmitter GABA. It is also a great source of the B-vitamin inositol, which strengthens the communication network between brain cells to support healthy cognition. It’s easy to add sea vegetables to your diet by consuming Hawaiian meals like sushi.