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Anxiety and depression can affect all of us at some time in our lives; happily, these tasty dietary inclusions can improve mental wellbeing.

1. Fermented foods

Kombucha, kefir and kimchi work on the good bacteria in your gut, which is where 95 percent of the neurochemical serotonin (which is responsible for feelings of wellbeing and happiness) lives. It is important to have an abundance of good gut microbes as they are what make and respond to these neurochemicals, which in turn impact the brain and immune system. Drink kombucha and kefir daily, and add sauerkraut and kimchi to meals.

2. Raw cacao

A Swiss study has shown that regular dark chocolate consumption reduced the metabolic markers related to anxiety. Many of us are surviving on too-low levels of magnesium. This mineral is essential for nearly 300 biochemical reactions that occur in the body; most importantly, it reduces our response to stress and helps regulate mood. Magnesium plays an essential part in the release and uptake of serotonin by brain cells, and also reduces the amount of stress hormones that cross the blood brain barrier, thereby lessening the effect stress hormones have on the body. Magnesium can be found in raw cacao powder, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. silver beet, spinach), almonds and tahini. A great way to increase your magnesium intake is with a daily green smoothie containing a handful of spinach, or try almond butter and raw cacao on toast with a sliced banana for a delicious nutty chocolatey breakfast. (P.S. Bananas also contain magnesium!)

3. Legumes

Lentils, beans, and chickpeas help to balance blood sugar, and keep levels stable. This is important because it stops you getting that 3pm slump that can see a dive in your mood and also a slide in your healthy eating plans. Use lentils in a salad, make chickpeas into hummus, or make some awesome vegetarian patties by using a drained can of lentils and adding one cooked kumara and 2 grated carrots, bake or lightly fry for a super quick dinner.

4. Asparagus

This veggie is a very good source of folate – just 1 cup provides 67 percent of your recommended daily intake (RDI). A deficiency in folate can cause insomnia, irritability, fatigue, and low mood, so tip some into a stir-fry or an omelette, or just toss it in a hot pan with a dab of coconut oil and some fresh pepper – yum!

5. Berries

These are high in antioxidants, which help to reduce free radical damage. They are also are a great source of flavonoids, which work directly on biochemical pathways within the brain. Experiments by the UK’s University of Reading have shown that blueberry consumption increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which boosts memory and cognition. Flavonoids also increase the elasticity of blood vessels: this means more blood can flow to the brain, helping to improve memory, attention and mental performance, which all directly affect mood. Add berries to baked goods like muffins, or snack on them raw – organic, of course, to avoid pesticides, as conventionally-grown berries are usually heavily sprayed.

Skye Macfarlane (BNat Med) is a New Zealand-based registered naturopath and medical herbalist who advises clients on how to improve their health through diet - as food is the original medicine. www.skyemacfarlane.com