Your eating habits inform a lot more than just your physical appearance or the number you see on a scale. In fact, it is scientifically proven that what you eat can have a huge effect on your mental health and overall mood.
“A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intake of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.”
So, while we’re not saying (at all) that food and diet cure all, research suggests that what you eat matters on a mental level. The good news it that Mother Nature is so smart, she put nutrients right into the food that can help relieve emotional strife.
That brings us to our first of many recipes in our new mood-boosting series. Eating good food can contribute to living a good life, and here at Grateful, that’s what we’re all about. In each article, we won’t only provide a happy-for-your-brain-and-gut recipe, but we’ll also break down how specific ingredients contribute to your overall mental wellbeing. Let’s get started, shall we?
These vegan enchiladas with kale, black bean, and shredded sweet potato are packed with vitamins and nutrients that can help lift your spirits.
Kale: Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, chard and broccoli are rich in magnesium and folate. Magnesium was actually one of the first medically acknowledged substances used to treat depression all the way back in 1921. It facilitates hormone balance, enzyme activity and neurotransmitter functions that in turn help regulate your mood and overall bodily health. Folate helps the body create new cells and produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. Most prescription antidepressants focus mainly on the increased production and uptake of serotonin.
Black beans: High in vitamin B6, black beans help increase serotonin uptake. The body needs vitamin B6 to create mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin. Studies have shown that vitamin B6 deficiencies can lead to depression. Additionally, like kale, black beans are rich in magnesium.
Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin B6 and fiber. Fiber helps prevent drastic changes in blood sugar levels, which directly affect your mood (hello, mood swings) when too high or low. High blood sugar levels cause feelings of anger, sadness, brain fogginess, lethargy and tension. When your blood sugar is too low, you can feel irritable, nervous and fatigued.
Avocado: Sure, this ingredient boosts the moods of millennials everywhere — yes, we will pay extra for guac. But avocados are also packed with vitamin B6, magnesium, folate and healthy fats (aka fatty acids). According to natural medicine doctor Josh Axe, “Fatty acids play an important role in regulating central nervous system functions and cognitive processes because they impact neurotransmitter levels and help balance hormones naturally. As a consequence, your mood can also improve when you eat enough healthy fats.”
Ready to eat a plate of happiness? Here’s the full recipe.
Mood-boosting, vegan enchilada ingredients
2 cups sweet potato, shredded
1 bunch kale, chopped
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 24-ounce can enchilada sauce (red or green, whichever you prefer)
1 4-ounce can diced green chilis
2 teaspoons taco seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
14–16 corn tortillas
1/4–1/2 cup vegan cheese (or regular cheese if you’re not vegan)
Your choice of toppings (suggested: cilantro, sliced jalapeños, scallions, sliced radishes, avocado)
Preheat the oven to 350F and start chopping your vegetables. I recommend shredding the sweet potato rather than dicing it, because it allows the sweet potato to cook quickly and makes the enchiladas easier to assemble. You can shred the sweet potato using the grating unit on a food processor or just a regular box grater.
I like to chop the kale into thin slices so that it resembles shreds. The onions can be diced.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the kale and sweet potato, and sauté until soft, eight to 10 minutes.
Next, add the green chilis, salt and taco seasoning, and stir until fully incorporated. Lastly, add the black beans and 1/2 cup enchilada sauce. Stir and remove from heat. This will be the filling.
Transfer the filling to a bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
Next, set up your station to make the enchiladas. You can cook the enchiladas in a metal or Pyrex baking dish, but I like cooking mine in a cast-iron skillet. Serving enchiladas in the skillet lends a cute, rustic vibe, which makes me happy. (And that’s the point here, right?) Whatever baking receptacle you use, start by adding a layer of enchiladas sauce until the bottom is completely covered, so the enchiladas soak up the sauce from all sides.
Place a handful of the filling in a sausage-like shape onto a tortilla and roll it up. Place the tortilla seam-side down in the pan. I recommend wrapping the tortillas in a moist paper towel and heating them in the microwave for about 30 seconds. If you don’t have a microwave, wrap them in a moist paper towel and pop them in the oven on high for three to five minutes.
Packaged corn tortillas can be dry and brittle, so heating the tortillas makes them a bit more malleable and less likely to crack open when you roll them. Continue to roll the tortillas until you fill the pan. This recipe makes 14–16 enchiladas, but I used a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, which meant I could fit only eight to 10; I made the rest in a 9-by-9-inch Pyrex dish. A larger cast-iron pan would work, too. Just make sure it fits in your oven!
After you fill your pan, pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas. I like mine extra-saucy, so I use all of the sauce; adjust to your preference. Add the shredded vegan cheese and bake for 20–25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, garnish with desired toppings, and serve hot.
I hope this vegan enchilada recipe brings a smile to your beautiful face. Cheers to the incredible transformative power of healthy food!