Have you ever heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’? The foods and drinks which you put into your body can have a huge effect on your happiness and mental well-being.
It isn’t just your physical health which can be improved by simplifying and improving your meal plan – by doing so, you’ll also be able to choose foods that can actively heighten your positive mental state and improve your outlook on life.
You’ve probably heard about eating well to improve your physical health and reduce the risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke and other conditions – but did you know that eating well can also reduce your risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety?
Simplifying your meal plan and making smart changes to the foods which you eat can help to boost cognitive function and reduce symptoms of depression, causing your mood to be lifted and increase your feelings of happiness and contentment.
When most of us think about boosting our brain power, diet is probably the last thing to come to mind. For most of us, the idea of boosting brain power and increasing cognitive function is something which we might do by participating in a thought-provoking debate or perhaps even playing ‘brain-training’ games. However, it turns out that one of the best ways to improve your mental health is through your diet. Just like the brain, your gut has its own nervous system which sends information to your brain via the vagus nerve. This explains why it’s common to feel queasy or nauseous when you’re stressed or worried. Just as the brain can impact the gut, your gut can also influence your brain.
You might think that comfort foods such as cake are the best to opt for if you want to feel happier, but the truth is that whilst eating these kinds of foods might help you to feel more satisfied for a short period of time, they do little to improve your permanent mental well-being over time.
When you’re choosing foods to include in your diet, some are much better than others when it comes to having an effect on your happiness, well-being and mental health. Fatty fish which are high in Omega-3, for example, are essential to proper and healthy functioning of the brain. If like most Americans your diet is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and high in trans and saturated fats, this could be a huge reason for stress and even feelings of depression. Our brains are made up largely of fat and our bodies cannot manufacture essential fatty acids on their own, meaning that we rely heavily on it in our diets.
Studies show that foods which are high in these fatty acids such as cold water fish have been shown to decrease symptoms of a number of mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder, attention deficit hypersensitivity disorder and even schizophrenia.
Often referred to as ‘Nature’s Prozac’, the neurotransmitter known as serotonin has a direct effect on mental health. The foods which we include in our diets are broken down into substances which make neurotransmitters and other chemicals that allow different parts of the human nervous system to communicate effectively not only with just each other, but also with the rest of the body. The proper production of these chemicals and substances is vital to good mental health and subsequently, your happiness.
Next to carbohydrates, protein is one of the most important and abundant substance in your body. The amino acid tryptophan is a building block of protein that plays a vital part in influencing mood by producing the serotonin neurotransmitter. Serotonin is commonly associated with depression, and it’s a medical fact that imbalances of serotonin levels in the brain can significantly contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety and general unhappiness.
Lean protein sources, such as chicken, fish, turkey, beans and eggs are all fantastic foods to include in your diet if you want to eat in such a way that the serotonin in your brain is balanced. Even more important are complex carbohydrates – food such as rice or brown pasta – which actually facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain. Eating more of these foods can relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as improve your overall cognitive function.
When your parents told you to eat your greens as a child, they certainly had good reason. Leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, beet and lentils are all high in folic acid, a substance which is linked directly to conditions such as depression, insomnia and fatigue.
If your diet is deficient in folic acid, you’re more likely to feel depressed, have less energy or struggle to sleep at night. When you are putting together your simplified diet plan, it’s vital to include lots of leafy greens which are high in folic acid into your meals in order to engineer a plan that significantly contributes to your happiness and well-being.
Broccoli is a food which contains selenium, a trace mineral which plays a highly important function when it comes to our immune systems, metabolism of the thyroid hormones and even reproduction. Some studies have suggested that low levels of this mineral in the body can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety as well as a lack of energy and fatigue. Other food sources of selenium include onions, chicken, seafood, whole-grain food and some nuts such as brazil nuts and walnuts – all of which can be easily incorporated into a new, healthier diet.
Yogurt doesn’t only make a healthy snacking option. Yogurts which are high in active cultures contain probiotics, healthy bacteria which studies have shown to have a direct correlation with the reduction of stress and anxiety by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.
In contrast to this, eating too much processed food which don’t include these probiotics can significantly affect the delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut, something which can actually cause you to feel more stressed and anxious. Making healthy choices and removing the clutter of processed and unhealthy foods from your diet doesn’t only aid your physical health, it also provides your body with the nutrients it needs to improve your mental health, happiness and well-being.
The physical benefits of simplifying and improving your diet have a direct correlation to your emotions. When you eat healthily and take care of your diet, your physical health will improve and you will feel a lot more energetic. The extra motivation and energy which you will gain from eating well can help to reduce symptoms of stress and encourage you to feel less run-down, tired and fatigued during the day. Choosing healthier options can also aid you with weight loss, and losing weight brings along with it a range of further benefits such as increased confidence in yourself and a better self-esteem.