I'm A Nutritional Psychiatrist: This Is My 6-Ingredient Anxiety-Busting Smoothie
The last few years have taken a toll on our mental well-being, so I'm always looking for easy ways to help myself and my patients find relief with nutrient-dense foods.
With a balance of low-glycemic index carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, and protein, this chocolate and cherry protein smoothie makes for an excellent on-the-go breakfast that will keep you full, focused, and calm throughout your morning.
Chocolate & Cherry Protein Smoothie
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cherries (pitted)
- 1 scoop protein powder of choice (Note: Opt for one made from mostly whole food ingredients with minimal added sugars or artificial sweeteners)
- 1 tbsp organic unsweetened cacao powder
- 1 tbsp raw nut butter
- 1.5 cups spinach or mixed greens
- 1 cup hemp milk
- Ice cubes (optional)
- 1 tbsp chia, flax, or hemp seeds (optional)
- 1 tsp cinnamon to help balance blood sugar (optional)
- I like to put all the ingredients (except the milk) in my glass blender bottle the night before and leave them in my fridge.
- Then in the morning as I am brewing my coffee, I add the hemp milk and blend it up.
This "CALM" ingredient acronym can help you make this smoothie your own with other ingredients you have on hand:
- Cherries, cacao, protein powder
- Add raw nut butter, chia seeds, walnuts
- Load up on greens
- Milk of choice
Here's what makes each ingredient in this smoothie so effective for mental health and stress management:
- Cherries: Cherries contain significant amounts of bioactives such as carotenoids, vitamin C, and potassium. They are also a good source of tryptophan and serotonin, which help to calm us. One study reported a decrease in urinary cortisol and anxiety1, as well as improved mood, after consuming cherry concentrate.
- Cacao flavanols: Cacao contains powerful antioxidants2 that beat oxidative stress in the brain—and fend off stress in the process. Rich in magnesium, cacao has also been shown to increase blood flow in the brain 3and improve cognitive function. Cacao also has gut-healthy prebiotic properties. A randomized, double-blind, crossover human study found that drinking a cacao drink4 for four weeks increased the number of healthy anti-inflammatory Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species and decreased the number of inflammatory Clostridium species. This change in bacteria correlated with a 30% decrease in inflammation. Inflammation and neuroinflammation5 are seen as underlying drivers of anxiety symptoms.
- Leafy greens: Spinach and other leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin B9 (folate), which supports neurotransmitter function6. Folate deficiency7 is associated with depression while eating more leafy greens can help improve your mood8.
- Hemp milk: Hemp milk is high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. The hemp seeds it's made from are a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Research suggests that ALA has neuroprotective properties and promotes healthy brain development9.
- Nut butter: Lastly, raw, unsweetened nut butters are excellent sources of magnesium and zinc. Magnesium is critical to proper brain function, as it is directly involved in the synthesis of dopamine (an important neurotransmitter). Zinc, on the other hand, has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the brain. Studies have shown10 that adequate consumption of both magnesium and zinc may prevent and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fatigue, and even bipolar disorder.
Whipping up this chocolate cherry smoothie is a yummy and satisfying way to have a meal on the go whether I am commuting or preparing for a long WFH day. Plus, it's packed with ingredients that support brain health and leave me feeling calm.
Uma Naidoo, M.D. is a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author of This Is Your Brain on Food (An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More). She is currently the Founder and Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the first US clinic of its kind where she consults on nutritional interventions for the psychiatrically and medically ill. Naidoo is also a culinary instructor at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. She writes for Harvard Health and Psychology Today and has just completed a unique video cooking series for the MGH Academy, which teaches nutritional psychiatry using culinary techniques in the kitchen.