A few weeks ago, feeling a bit down, I found myself in the back of Whole Foods, stockpiling grapefruit-scented candles, coconut-infused lip balm, and Argan oil.
My retail therapy didn’t end there: The “whole body” section greeted me with a litany of salves promising relief: some Kava root for my anxiety, a multivitamin promising me “life force” for my dwindling energy, and something in a purple tin to relieve PMS irritability. Seems like a good idea, right?
But when I got home and looked over my purchases—and a receipt that itemized over $60 in vitamins alone—I remembered a book I’d read called The Happiness Diet by Dr. Drew Ramsey, a Columbia psychiatrist who I’ve worked with in my communications role at Columbia University Medical Center.
In the book, Ramsey and his co-author Tyler Graham argue that supplements are largely unnecessary. They write: “With the exception of fish oil and Vitamin D, no supplement has been scientifically proven to improve health.” Instead, the authors promote actually eating the whole foods you buy at Whole Foods (or wherever you shop) to get your daily does of vitamins and to perk you up from whatever ails you.
In an effort to learn more (and, well, save some cash), I decided to call Dr. Ramsey to confess my supplement-buying binge, talk to him about some of his favorite nutrient-rich foods, and see how we can all incorporate them into our daily diets.
Kale for Improving Your Mood
“The best multivitamin you can put into your diet is kale,” Dr. Ramsey told me. “Just one cup of kale provides you with your daily need of Vitamins C, A, and K. Plus you get things that supplements don’t provide—like fiber and protein to keep you full and an array of phytonutrients, plant-based molecules that fight disease.”
Kale is also a natural mood-booster. In his book, Dr. Ramsey points out that folates decrease negative moods, especially when they’re consumed in real food as opposed to a synthetic folic acid supplement.
There are plenty of easy ways to pack kale into your diet without simply sautéing it like spinach. Dr. Ramsey, who also co-authored the book 50 Shades of Kale: Delicious & Nutritious Kale Recipes, says he adores kale chips, which are a great snack to bring to the office. My sister drinks her kale juiced with lemon, ginger, and cucumber. You can also try mixing kale (or any other green for that matter) into macaroni and cheese or other delicious dishes not inherently nutrient-rich.
Eggs for Energy
Eggs have had a terrible reputation since my childhood, an era where someone was always ordering an egg white omelet or stocking the fridge with a yellow carton of Egg Beaters. But most researchers and nutritionists now agree that eggs are a great source of protein and energy, despite the cholesterol.
“While it’s true that egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol—and so may weakly affect blood cholesterol levels,” reads an article on the Harvard School of Public Health website, “eggs also contain nutrients that may help lower the risk for heart disease, including protein, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin, and folate.”
Dr. Ramsey advocates eating hard-boiled eggs or a slice of quiche as a snack for a quick energy boost when you’re on the go. And if you’d like to change the way you think about cooking eggs in general, read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. Her second chapter, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” will give you new insight into incorporating eggs into your daily life. For a preview—and a glimpse into her spectacular kitchen—check out the video below.
Nuts and Dark Chocolate for Brain Power
When I think of trail mix, I think of soggy raisins and peanuts eaten out of a Ziploc bag while on hiking trips as a teenager. But Dr. Ramsey and I talked about his idea of a “brain food” trail mix—a combo of your favorite nuts and dark chocolate—to keep you full and give you nutrients vital to brain functioning. There is ample evidence that nuts, especially walnuts and Brazil nuts, deliver nutrients to fight depression and help with stress. Plus, a small serving of dark chocolate during the day can, according to The Happiness Diet, “improve mood and increase brain processing speed, all while decreasing mental fatigue.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather savor a few squares of dark chocolate in the afternoon to boost my mood than down an energy drink promising focus.
Since my supplement binge, I’ve returned my purchases and vowed to be more creative with incorporating vitamin-rich foods into my diet. Last week, I brought a kale salad to work and I ate some almonds around 3 PM when I felt my energy dwindling. My general melancholy didn’t magically disappear, but I did have more energy than I’d had all week.
Sure, you won’t find a label attached to kale or nuts or salmon saying “this will promote mental and physical well-being,” as you will on a bottle of Kava. But the foods we eat affect the way we feel much more than a supplement can.
And if you ever need an extra boost? Well, there’s always the scented candle aisle.