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- Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist
To better understand why this protein-packed cherry chocolate smoothie is as beneficial for your palate as it is for your mind and mood, we caught up with Dr. Naidoo for her expert insights.
Why this cherry chocolate smoothie is a brain- and mood-boosting treat
Cherries and cocoa
To start, let’s focus on the undeniable stars of this recipe: cherries and unsweetened natural cocoa. “They’re both rich sources of polyphenols, which are plant compounds that help reduce oxidative damage in the brain and promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria,” Dr. Naidoo says. She adds that cherries are a natural source of melatonin (aka the sleep hormone), which means that they can help to improve sleep quality. Read: This smoothie is totally fair game for a post-dinner dessert. “Cocoa flavanols are great for the brain, and cocoa has been studied [and shown to] help improve mood,” she says.
Spinach, steel cut oats, and chia seeds
Not everyone loves spinach, but since these dark greens are among the most nutrient-dense veggies on the planet, adding them into a smoothie is a foolproof way to load up on their goodness… sans that leafy taste. So how does this all translate into benefits for your mind and mood? “Spinach and other leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin B9, aka folate, which supports neurotransmitter function and can aid in the prevention, management, and treatment of depression,” Dr. Naidoo explains. In other words, if you’re feeling blue, it can help to go green.
The nutritional psychiatrist then says that these greens—alongside the steel cut oats and chia seeds in her recipe—are all excellent sources of fiber, which is critical to cultivate a healthy gut microbiome. “A healthy gut microbiome translates to reduced levels of inflammation throughout the brain and body,” Dr. Naidoo explains—so take note that the benefits of adequate fiber intake go well beyond improving digestive health.
Moreover, Dr. Naidoo advises opting for whole-grain, minimally processed steel cut oats over varieties that contain added sugars and other less-than-nutritious ingredients. The former option is rich in vitamins B1 and B6, “which have been shown to enhance mood, improve sleep quality, and help combat anxiety,” she says.
Next up are chia seeds, which we already know are rich in fiber. However, Dr. Naidoo mentions that they’re also high in plant-based protein as well as healthy fats. “Most notably, chia seeds are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Research suggests that ALA has neuroprotective properties and promotes healthy brain development,” she continues. Small but mighty, chia seeds clearly deserve a spot in any brain-boosting meal plan.
Last but not least, Dr. Naidoo calls out her cherry chocolate smoothie recipe’s inclusion of raw, unsweetened nut butter, which is an excellent source of magnesium and zinc. “Magnesium is critical to proper brain function, as it is directly involved in the synthesis of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter,” she explains. Magnesium is also lauded for its ability to promote relaxation and thus better sleep… yet the majority of us don’t get enough of it daily. Zinc also shouldn’t be forgotten, as Dr. Naidoo says that this mineral is beneficial to reduce inflammation in the brain. Paired together, they’re an unmistakably dynamic duo for your mind and mood.
“Studies have shown that adequate consumption of both magnesium and zinc may prevent and reduce symptoms of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fatigue, and even bipolar disorder,” she shares. Of course, you can enjoy nut butter on toast, as a dip, or straight out of the jar—but naturally, we advise dolloping it straight into Dr. Naidoo’s smoothie recipe to double down on cognition-enhancing and mood-boosting benefits.
Dr. Naidoo’s mood-boosting cherry chocolate smoothie recipe
Yields 1 serving
1 cup of frozen or fresh cherries (pits removed)
1/3 cup of steel cut oats
1 scoop of chocolate protein powder
1-2 Tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder (to taste)
2 Tbsp of chia seeds
1 Tbsp of raw, unsweetened nut butter
1 1/2 cups of spinach (or mixed greens)
8 ounces of water, unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, or other liquid of your choice
Ice cubes (for thickness)
1/2 banana (for sweetness)
1 tsp of cinnamon (to promote blood sugar balance)
1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, then enjoy!
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