You are what you eat and there is no doubt about it. Load yourself with junk foods and your body will probably reflect that fact, with overweight and a poor complexion. Choose a well-balanced, wholesome diet and reap the benefits of improved health and vigor.
When we think of wellness versus illness, many of us focus on the physical side of things. But, mental health is perhaps even more important because scientists are demonstrating that humans are also “what you think.” People who fill their minds with thoughts of helping themselves and others often report fewer psychological problems (such as depression) than those who dwell in the dark places inside their own heads.
Even the cheeriest person gets the blues now and then. It’s human nature – or maybe sunspots, who knows? The good news is that there are some foods known to improve your mood and your mind.
Before going any further, though, let’s talk a bit about serotonin (Sarah-TOE-nin). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it relays electrical signals (messages) between nerve cells. It is sometimes called the happy chemical because that’s what it does: make you feel good.
Serotonin is found mainly in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets. This essential bodily chemical affects waking and sleeping, appetite, emotions, and motor, cognitive, and autonomic functions nonstop, 24/7.
Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression whereas high levels are associated with euphoria. Scientists aren’t sure yet if serotonin levels follow the mood or cause it.
Either way, certain foods are known to raise serotonin levels in the body and produce mood-boosting effects. When consumed, these foods fortify the immune system and neutralize damaging free radicals that come from natural sources and environmental pollution.
I was surprised to learn that the digestive tract produces a whopping 95 percent of the body’s serotonin. Researchers are discovering that the gut and the brain influence each other much more than previously thought and that both affect our physical, emotional, and mental health.
It turns out that the brain and the gut are directly connected to each other. Eating food that inflames the stomach lining travels to the brain and inflames it, as well, producing short-temperedness, anger, and mood swings.
Stress takes its toll on our health, both when it is acute – sudden – or chronic – over a long period of time. It can manifest as “stiff or sore muscles, headaches, anxiety, depression and even a lack of energy or motivation.” And guess what?
“When the body senses stress or danger, it signals a craving for fatty and sugary foods, since they offer a temporary increase in energy.”
The downside of preparing for flight or fight is that satisfying the fight-or-flight craving by eating fats and sugars damages the gastrointestinal tract over time. Gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and Candida (yeast) overgrowth all add to the negative side effects of brain inflammation.
And, when you think about it, neither the brain nor the gut has an ‘Off’ switch. They are always on, chugging along even while we’re asleep or not paying specific attention to what they are doing.
The way to balance your body, mind, and feelings for optimum performance is to make some simple – but not necessarily easy – lifestyle changes:
- Exercise regularly
- Sleep well and enough
- Eat a diet rich with natural, whole foods and avoid highly processed or GM (genetically modified) components
Eat the following foods to elevate your mood and combat stress:
- Almond nuts have been ranked the #1 most nutritious food tested so far. Magnesium (which triggers the release of serotonin), zinc, and vitamin E in almonds treat and prevent anxiety. Fiber and healthy fats they deliver promote good bacterial growths and keep digestion regular.
- Fermented foods have undergone a chemical conversion that takes carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and turns them into gut-boosting probiotic (literally, “for life”) acids and bacteria. Sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha are all produced by fermentation and help the gut digest food and absorb nutritional components.
- Avocado is full of healthy monounsaturated fats packed with omega-3 fatty acids that help decrease inflammation throughout the body.
- Asparagus is high in folate which strengthens the nerves, improves mood, lowers stress levels, aids cellular detoxification, and helps dopamine production which regulates feelings of pleasure and reward.
- Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants that fight free radicals but low in waist-expanding calories. The antioxidant flavonol increases the flow of oxygen-bearing blood to the brain which helps us adapt to stressors. Tryptophan, an amino acid in dark chocolate, makes you feel tired and happy as it calms the mind.
There are many other foods that can alter your mind – and your gut – to make you feel and perform better. A little bit of research can pay off with healthy meals and snacks you like to eat that build you up rather than tear you down.