Food Rx: Root Vegetables to Boost Your Mood
During stressful times, healthy levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by nerve cells that plays a key role in our mood, may help us feel more emotionally stable and happy.
While we can't get serotonin directly from food, the fiber in root vegetables promotes favorable gut bacteria. And because most of our serotonin is produced in our gut, having healthy gut microbes is essential for increasing our serotonin.
Root vegetables are the edible part of a plant that grows underground. There are several families of root vegetables, including tap roots (turnips, beets, carrots), tuberous roots (sweet potatoes, yucca), and tubers (potatoes, yams). Autumn is the perfect time to dig into them. Roast and braise them to intensify their natural sweetness, add them to soups and stews, or mash them.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins A and C, found in many root vegetables, also keep our gut healthy by lowering inflammation. Just one cup of roasted sweet potatoes provides three grams of fiber, 25 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, and more than a full day's supply of vitamin A.
The delicious scent of these roots, such as roasted carrots, candied yams, and mashed potatoes, may help our mood, too. Since smell and memory are linked, if you have fond memories of these dishes served up during the holidays or being shared around the dinner table, the scent alone can boost serotonin and create a positive vibe.
Eating foods rich in tryptophan, the essential amino acid that serotonin is made from, may also help. Foods rich in tryptophan include oats, milk, nuts, seeds, soy, cheese, eggs, tuna, salmon, and turkey. And we don't need much! Snack on one ounce of roasted squash or pumpkin seeds to get halfway to the recommended intake, or boost your mood this Thanksgiving with a bite of turkey and helpings of roasted sweet carrots and mashed potatoes.
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2021 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.
Basheerah Enahora, RDN, LDN, MS is the owner of BE Nutrition, which helps women eat well through a food-first approach that combines lifestyle changes with evidence-based medicine. Find her at benutritionco.com.