Food And Life – Can You Eat Yourself Happier?

Last updated on : March 16 2023

Girl eating healthy brown bread sandwich

Article Summary

We’re all very aware of the connection between our physical health and the foods we eat. We know that to stay healthy and avoid all kinds of preventable diseases, we need to enjoy a balanced diet filled with all the macro-and micro-nutrients our bodies need.

However, there is now evidence that the foods we eat also have an incredible impact on our mental health and our daily mood.

Let’s explore - jump to the section you want by using the links below. 

Good food and a bad diet – how does it impact our bodies and minds?

The gut-brain connection

Happy foods for a happy life

What not to eat

What to eat more of

How to make it tastier

Final word

Good Food and a Bad Diet – how does it impact our bodies and minds?

What we sometimes look at as food that boosts our mood is not the kind of food that can make us happier.

Think about the kinds of foods you reach for a boost – the chocolates, the ice creams, the candy bars, or the savory comfort options that are usually highly processed and calorie-dense.

While these kinds of foods can undoubtedly boost our mood in the short term, making us feel more energized, there’s also a downside to them. First, we know they are not suitable for us, so there is an inherent feeling of guilt after eating an entire tub of ice cream.

Second, they don’t give us the nourishment we need, which means we’re not getting happier in the long run, only unhealthier.

Years of consuming a poor diet can lead to changes in our bodies we are not even aware of. These changes can be very harmful not only to our physical health but to our mental health as well.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut-brain connection is a relatively new field of research that explores the complex relationship between our gut microbiome and mental health

Surprisingly, a lot of our mental issues originate from the gut. While there are certainly those that have nothing to do with what we eat and are completely un-gut-related, we know that problems with our stomach can lead to anxiety and mental anguish.

The gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in our gastrointestinal tract. These tiny organisms are crucial to our digestion, immune system, and mental health. In fact, the gut is sometimes called the "second brain" because it has a complex network of neurons that can communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve.

When we eat a lot of unhealthy food full of sugar and processed ingredients, we disrupt the delicate balance of our gut microbiome. This can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, inflammation, and other digestive problems. 

Furthermore, research has shown that imbalances in the gut microbiome can contribute to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, when we take care of our gut microbes by eating a balanced and varied diet, we can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that are good for our mental health. 

For example, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria that can support a healthy gut microbiome.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, there are other things we can do to support the gut-brain connection. These include getting regular exercise, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep

Studies have shown that exercise can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and reduce inflammation. At the same time, stress and sleep deprivation can disrupt the gut microbiome and contribute to mental health issues.

In conclusion, the gut-brain connection is an exciting area of research that highlights the critical role that our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Eating a healthy diet and caring for our gut microbes can promote a healthy gut microbiome and support our overall well-being and happiness.

Happy foods for a happy life

There are plenty of foods that can help lift the mood in the long term and lead us into that feeling of contentment and happiness. All of them are good both for our bodies and minds, and they’re also delicious.

You may think that most of them sound dull, not tasty enough and that they’ll never taste quite like a Snickers bar. While you do have a point about the Snickers, you need to shake off the mistaken belief that good food has to taste bland.

Just ask Google for a bit of help, and it will be delighted to offer hundreds of healthy and tasty recipes featuring some of the hearty foods we’re about to list.

As for the Snickers, try making your own – and you’ll never buy one again.

What not to eat

First, here’s a brief list of the foods you should try to avoid, or at least limit their intake:

  • Saturated fats – most often found in takeout foods, fast foods, snack foods, and all the items you know are not right for you, but still, eat because they taste good.
  • Added sugar – found in beverages and plenty of snacks, most often in the form of artificial sweeteners, which are very bad for your gut health
  • Processed cereals – white bread and refined breakfast cereals, which you can replace with healthier options
  • Processed meats – such as salami and processed sausages
  • Excessive amounts of alcohol – certain types of alcohol can be beneficial to your health, but only if drunk in moderation, so try to limit your alcohol intake to a reasonable amount.

What to eat more of

Finally, here’s a list of the foods you should be looking to eat more of:

Carbs with a low glycemic index

Forget all those diets that would have you swear off carbs. There’s nothing wrong with carbs; they are the fuel that our body turns into glucose, which is what we mostly run on.

To fuel your body well, try to aim for clean foods and carbs that provide a slow but steady burn, and not something you will burn through very fast (like that Snickers bar). Look for carbs with a low glycemic index instead, such as:

  • fresh fruits
  • legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • sweet potato
  • sweet corn
  • milk and yogurt
  • rolled oats as opposed to processed oats
  • bread made of rye, wholemeal, wholegrain, or sourdough 

Read more: Is The Atkins Diet Right For You?

Healthy fats

Similarly, fats are not the devil either. Our body needs fat to survive, and we all have some. While we often find it ugly, if we were to reduce our body fat percentages too much, we wouldn’t be able to survive.

However, the kind of fat we eat is incredibly important. We need to focus on omega-3 fatty acids more, as opposed to the omega-6 fats we mostly eat as a part of our western diet.

Here is where you can find plenty of healthy fats:

  • fish such as sardines, tuna, anchovies, salmon, and herring
  • algae
  • seafood
  • nuts, such as almonds and walnuts

How to make it tastier

Now that you have a general idea of the kinds of foods you need to eat let’s list a couple of specific items you can up your intake of:

  • Berries – Any berry will do. Go for anything from raspberries to blueberries, or something exotic like acai. Berries are rich in antioxidants, and they also contain a lot of magnesium, which is essential for regulating your sleep and lowering your stress levels. Magnesium also helps keep your heart healthy.
  • Chilies – If you like spicy foods, you’re in luck. Chili contains a substance called capsaicin, which is what makes you tear up when eating something very hot. It also causes your body to release endorphins as a response, which puts you in a better mood.
  • Vanilla – But it has to be real vanilla, not the vanillin that produced artificially. Vanilla boosts endorphin release, and it can put you in a more relaxed mood. That’s why burning vanilla-scented candles is an excellent way to relax.
  • Dark chocolate The more cocoa you have in your chocolate, the better, so look for the kind that has as much of it as you can reasonably tolerate, as it will taste very different than milk chocolate. It is high in tryptophan and theobromine, which triggers the release of serotonin, which is what puts you in that good mood after eating it.
  • Eggs – Eggs are rich in amino acids and vitamins D and B12, and they also contain zinc and magnesium. They’re high in protein as well, so they will keep your blood sugar levels stable and provide a nourishing meal. Also, don’t believe you need to eat egg whites only – you can eat all of the yolks, too.
  • Oats – A great source of complex carbs, oats are that perfect slow-burning meal that will keep you energized but won’t mess with your glucose levels. They’re also rich in magnesium and boost the production of serotonin. Be careful that you buy rolled oats with no added sugar and not the kind that has a lot of extra sugar and heavy processing.
  • Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts – Nuts are full of healthy fats and protein, and they can keep you full if you’re feeling a bit peckish. They are also high in calories, though, so don’t eat a whole pack while watching Netflix. That won’t have the effect you want.

Final word

We are what we eat, as that old saying goes. And the more healthily we eat, the healthier we’ll become.

However, remember that you can still go overboard on the healthy options too, so you always want to stay mindful of the amount of food you eat, and not just what that food is.

Also, keep in mind that you need plenty of variety. Switch things around and try new foods and flavor combinations to keep your meals interesting.

Try to eat seasonal fruits and veggies and foods sourced locally as much as you can. This practice will not only benefit your health but your local environment as well. You can also focus your diet on natural fat burning foods if you're looking to achieve weight loss goals. 

Lastly, read more here for a similar take on what foods to eat to beat anxiety or depression.

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