“There is evidence that diet affects mood, including depression and anxiety, as well as our body’s stress response,” says Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in Lubbock, Texas and spokesperson for the All-Purpose In The Raw sugar company. A healthy, balanced diet is key to a healthy body, though it’s important to note that it can work to support a healthy mind, too. While specific foods aren’t a replacement for medication, notable sweets like honey, dates, and elderberries can work to support brain and mental health in naturally surprising ways.
The power of honeybees
Made by honeybees using the nectar of flowering plants, honey contains mostly sugar in addition to a mix of amino acids, vitamins, iron, zinc and antioxidants, according to the Mayo Clinic. Honey is well-regarded for its use as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial agent, with many using the sticky sweet substance for a variety of purposes. In addition to its use as an effective cough suppressant, potentially supporting a healthy gut, and aiding with wound or burn therapy, honey may have the potential to bring antidepressant or anti-anxiety benefits, too.
“Research suggests that polyphenol compounds in honey such as apigenin, caffeic acid, chrysin, ellagic acid and quercetin support a healthy nervous system, which may enhance memory and support mood,” according to registered dietitian and nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. AARP goes on to note that more research is needed on the subject, however, a 2014 review of research stated that one established nootropic (cognitive enhancing) property of honey “is that it assists the building and development of the entire central nervous system, particularly among newborn babies and preschool-age children, which leads to the improvement of memory and growth, a reduction of anxiety, and the enhancement of intellectual performance later in life.”
Dates and Alzheimer’s disease — exploring the link
Characterized by their chewiness and sweet flavor, dates bring a variety of health benefits to the table. Healthline notes that dates are high in important nutrients (including antioxidants) and have a variety of advantages and uses. For example, as they’re known for being high in fiber, eating dates can benefit digestive health by preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements. However, the dried fruits may also benefit brain function, with laboratory studies finding dates to be beneficial in lowering inflammatory markers like interleukin 6 (IL-6), in which high levels are associated with a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s).
Healthline further notes that studies (including animal studies) have shown dates to be helpful for “reducing the activity of amyloid beta proteins,” which have the potential to form plaques in the brain. When plaques accumulate in the brain, it’s explained that they can potentially disturb communication between brain cells — thus leading to brain cell death and Alzheimer’s disease. Research published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine notes that a diet rich in date palm fruits improves memory, learning and reduces beta amyloid in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the research conclusion, results suggest that date fruits as a dietary supplementation “may have beneficial effects in lowering the risk, delaying the onset or slowing down the progression of AD.”
Elderberry syrup for reducing stress
Characterized by their deep purple color and slightly smaller size than blueberries, elderberry fruit is one of few beneficial fruits starting with the letter E. Typically used as an additive in recipes, it’s important to note that elderberries are one fruit that shouldn’t be eaten raw, as they can contain dangerous amounts of lectin and cyanide — even in small amounts, elderberries can cause nausea. With that in mind, elderberry syrup is commonly used for a variety of conditions, including as a natural remedy for the common cold thanks to its ability to boost the immune system. However, when it comes to the mental health benefits, there are a few advantages to note. Health.com points out that the inflammation-fighting properties of elderberries may help in reducing stress as well as improve well-being and mood. “Polyphenol flavonoids may reduce inflammation in the brain and support gut health, both of which can positively impact mental health,” Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian, told Health.
While not a replacement or substitute for medication, natural foods can help support a healthy body and mind in a variety of different ways. Speaking to a medical professional on how to go about incorporating such additions to your diet is always ideal, with honey, dates, and elderberry syrup presenting just a few sweet foods with an array of mental health benefits.