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Food and Mental Health – Can You Eat Yourself Happier?

When we observe the link between diet and health, we usually consider exclusively physical health. However, mental wellbeing is also associated with what we eat. This is particularly important when we’re burdened with responsibilities and are torn apart between careers and personal life. 

Not that long ago, the connection between food and mental health was merely an assumption, but now we have many studies proving that good nutritional intake can, in reality, contribute to better memory and boost our mood. So, if you’re ready to do some further research on this topic and learn how to eat yourself happier, read on.

Woman eating blueberries for mental health

The science connecting food and mental wellbeing

Your brain and gastrointestinal tract are closely connected. The bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract impacts the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that carry messages from your gut to your brain. Eating a healthy diet promotes the production of “good bacteria,” which consequently influences the production of the neurotransmitters. Some foods feed the “bad bacteria,” causing a temporary spike in the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, but that is just a fleeting rush.

woman eating a salad for mental health

How some foods, beverages, and nutrients affect your mood

Most nutritionists and doctors would recommend eating a lot of vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet. Let’s see how certain things you consume affect your brain.

  • Carbohydrates: The idea of carbs making us happy might just be correct. Carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy. Just make sure you focus on healthy carbs such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, etc. 
  • Probiotics: Probiotics do wonders for your gut and, therefore, for the neurotransmitters sending messages to your brain. 
  • Coffee: Caffeine is believed to be one of the most effective legal substances to improve concentration and energy levels. And truly, in reasonable doses, it delays tiredness and increases alertness. However, if you like your coffee sweet, the effects may be counterproductive because of refined sugar. To avoid this, you can look for alternative healthier ways to sweeten your coffee and enjoy your daily energy boost without guilt. 
  • Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins B, C, D & E, and magnesium are all essential for brain health. Also, thiamine and vitamin E are crucial for cells that send messages from the nerves. Magnesium fights nerve damage and improves memory. 
  • Fat: Some fats, mostly saturated ones, have a very negative impact on your mood and overall health. However, healthy fats, such as omega-3 fats with DHA, are essential for the function of neurons. These fats are also linked with the prevention of dementia.

healthly breakfast

What to eat to make yourself happier

As you’ve already seen, there is a firm connection between what you eat and how you feel. And that’s not just an assumption. A randomised controlled trial among young people showed that the symptoms of depression dropped after following a Mediterranean style of eating for three weeks. This type of diet includes eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. If you need specific guidelines on mood-boosting foods, we’ve got you covered:

  • Fatty fish: This type of fish is packed with omega-3s, which makes it the perfect mood-booster. So, fill up your plate with salmon and tuna.
  • Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains a small amount of sugar – just enough to fuel your brain with energy. It also triggers the release of many feel-good substances, such as theobromine, N-acylethanolamine, and caffeine.
  • Fermented foods: Foods like kombucha, yoghurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are packed with probiotics that support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
  • Bananas: Vitamin B6 in bananas contributes to the synthesis of feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. Bananas are also rich in fibre, which helps slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream, thus keeping your blood sugar levels stable.  
  • Oats: Whole grains like oats keep you in good spirits because they’re an excellent source of fibre. They are also a fine source of iron.
  • Berries: Berries are often marked as “superfoods” because they’re packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants play a crucial role in battling oxidative stress.
  • Nuts and seeds: The two are packed with good fats, plant-based protein, and fibre. They also contain tryptophan – an amino-acid in charge of producing serotonin. Some of them, such as almonds, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts, are also a great source of zinc and selenium, both of which are important for brain function. 
  • Coffee: We’ve already mentioned this magical beverage that helps increase the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Just make sure you drink it in moderate amounts. 
  • Beans and lentils: High in fibre, rich in plant-based protein, and full of other feel-good nutrients, beans and lentils increase the levels of neurotransmitters that regulate the mood, such as dopamine, serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric, and norepinephrine.

healthy food spread

Final word

Depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar and other mental health challenges are not something that you can get rid of in an instant. Depending on their degree, they require regular visits to a therapist, prescription medication, mindfulness practices such as meditation, etc. However, food and mental health make the journey that bit easier. The nutrients you get from food can push your mind in the right direction and provide you with the right kind of fuel for the road ahead.

 

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Food and Mental Health

Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)
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