Doesn’t food make you happy? And, can you eat yourself happier? The short answer to both: Yes.
Research shows the gut-brain axis is a two-way link between our central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS). The food we eat affects our mental health, and our mental health affects the kind of food we choose to eat.
An upfront way to find this out is to note the energy boost you get after eating. And on the other hand, you might want to remember a time you skipped a major meal of the day, and it spoiled your whole day by keeping you energy-sapped.
According to nutritional psychiatry, “you are what you eat.” This appears to be true because there is a connection between food and mood — the gut-brain axis.
So you see, our diet affects our state of mind. Read on to understand better the way that food can make you happy.
What Is Nutritional Psychiatry
Nutritional psychiatry involves using diet to safeguard and improve your psychological well-being. In nutritional psychiatry, doctors use supplements and food as an alternative to medication to treat mental health.
It would be wise to note here that mental health does not include only mental diseases, like depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Indeed, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
According to the World Health Organization,
Mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
Ever heard of comfort food—the kind of high-carbohydrate food we tend to eat in times of emotional stress? This brain-gut axis helps us understand the connection between nutrition and disease.
Our vagus nerve connects the brain and gut through biochemical signals traveling between the digestive tract and the nervous system. The gut produces many neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, just like the brain.
Our gut is also home to about 100 trillion microorganisms, which is 10 times the number all the cells in our body. So, are we harboring them or are they harboring us?
Studies show these gut microbes help the development and growth of our nervous system (CNS and ENS) in the early weeks after our birth.
Anything that affects your digestive tract affects your brain, and vice versa is true. It is for this reason current research is focusing on various nutritional strategies for the management of mental health.Research shows the gut-brain axis is a two-way link between our central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS). The food we eat affects our mental health, and our mental health affects the kind of food we choose to eat. Click To Tweet
So, let’s ask again: Can you eat yourself happier?
The Gut And Mental Wellbeing
The health of the digestive system is the key to your emotional wellbeing. A person with a healthier gut is a happier person.
Some speculate most of our psychological issues begin in the gut, and gut problems can lead to anxiety, psychosis, and mental anguish.
Scientists have also found having psychobiotics as food can enhance our mood. Psychobiotics are the live bacteria (probiotics) that, when eaten, help reduce our anxiety and depression levels.
When you eat, the body breaks down the food into substances that it uses to make chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Food also acts as a raw material for stress hormones as opiates. What you consume plays a vital role in the functioning of the nervous system, including the brain.
Unhealthy food also affects the immune system by producing inflammatory chemicals.
For example, when blood sugar levels are high, the body produces inflammatory substances, as cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins released by the immune system cells that act as cell-to-cell signals.
Too much carbohydrate and sugar also trigger the pancreas to secrete high levels of insulin that can make a person insulin resistant, diabetic, and up to 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression.
Thus, the gut greatly influences your psychological state. A balanced diet is integral for the health of your gut, as well as the health of your mind.
How Can You Eat Yourself Happy
Few people are aware that what they eat affects their mood. You need to be conscious of the foods you eat at all times.
Here are some of the ways you can satisfy the chemicals in your body to feel good most times:
- Avoid processed foods — Processed foods are full of sugar, oil, and carbohydrates that will harm your health and mood. Reduce your intake of soda, junk food, fruit juices, and any product that contains sugar. They will only give you more weight and dietary diseases that will leave you feeling low, sad, and depressed. Also, watch out for your alcohol intake because it leads to irritability and insomnia.
- Do not skip meals — Come up with a schedule to set aside time for eating. No matter how busy you are, try to squeeze meals into your schedule. When you skip meals, you will have the urge to overeat later, and this will affect the digestion of food. Research shows that when you are hungry, you tend to have a sad mood. Therefore, make sure your body gets a constant supply of food to maintain that good mood. You can try a three-course diet with snacks and fruits in between.
- Eat frequently — To regulate your blood sugar levels, eat snacks, and food at intervals. Frequent eating will give your body a constant supply of energy, which equals a good mood. You can snack on vegetables and fruits because they are rich in nutrients.
Foods That Help Maintain A Happy Mood
- Fermented Products — They include cheese, yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, among others, and help to improve digestion. Eating these food choices will reduce stress and improve your mood.
- Prebiotics — These are indigestible fibers that serve as food for the probiotics. You can promote the function of the digestive system by having foods that have prebiotics, like garlic, bananas, and asparagus.
- Organic Products — To reduce exposure to oxidative stress and toxins consume natural products whenever possible. Get fresh fruits and vegetables as part of your nutrient-dense diet.
- Healthy Fats — The main sources of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats are kidney beans, fish, chia seeds, and walnuts. You can also get hemp seeds from which contain high quantities of healthy fats. If you suffer from clinical depression, using fish oil supplements is an appropriate choice. Studies show that healthy fats are suitable for the brain and mental health.
- Micronutrients — To stay happy, you need vitamins, fiber, and proteins. You can manage depression by consuming vitamins from broccoli, leafy vegetables, and lentils. Proteins raise the level of dopamine to promote energy and maintain a good mood. Sources of protein include tofu, eggs, and beans. Foods such as Brussels sprouts that are rich in fiber also promote the health of the digestive system.
The food you eat determines your mood to a large extent. A focus on healthy food choices will improve your gut health that in turn will trigger the nervous system to produce mood-elevating hormones.
Unhealthy foods, on the other hand, hinder the efficiency of your body from digesting food. As a result, you end up with inflammation and stress-related diseases.
With healthy food, you get a happy mood. So, ensure you stick to a nutritious diet. The next time you feel moody or depressed, pay attention; it could be your body telling you to eat healthily. Because you can eat yourself happier.
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Authors’ Bio: Jessica Smith is an avid reader who enjoys getting lost in the world of books. Holding on to her passion for fitness, she believes a healthy diet is a key to healthy living. Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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