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Know How Food Can Help You Stay Happy

Image for representation. (Reuters)

Image for representation. (Reuters)

Some foods are temporary mood boosters while others are more long lasting.

We are what we eat. Whenever we pick a food, we make a choice for a good mood or a sad one. However, some foods are temporary mood boosters while others are more long lasting. There are a number of foods that can lift our mood. These foods replenish the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and keep our brain chemistry balanced.

How many of us take ‘let food be the medicine’ seriously when it comes to our emotional health? No long can we keep the doctor away by just one apple a day, it will take a lot more to achieve the same amount of nutritional health that an apple would have given us decades ago. Our body now needs a minimum 5-7 cups of salad per day.

Starting from morning, let’s talk about breakfast. Why is breakfast the most important meal? It’s become clichéd but the reason that it is very important, is to keep our blood sugar normal throughout the day, followed by small and frequent meals. When the blood sugars stay normal (i.e. they don’t really rise and fall drastically), we don’t feel the need to binge due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). However, it doesn’t mean that we should eat more sugar because that will make your blood sugar spike and then fall causing irritability. Rather eating foods that stabilize the sugar will help us more.

When we are under stress our mood can trigger food cravings, which can lead us to overeat. Here our bad mood results in us eating comfort food in improper proportions. However, our food choices may result in making or breaking our mood too.

Hence, we must focus on the nutrients we take, our blood sugars, hormones and sleep cycle. Also, our focus should be on treating the root cause of our problems rather than treating just the symptom. Because when we feel depressed, dull or lethargic, we want to understand and treat the underlying cause and not just the symptoms that we want to get rid of, right?

Food plays a crucial role in influencing our mood. Here are a few natural foods that can make us feel happier and more energized.

Dopamine rich foods or foods rich in dopamine-producing amino-acids such as tyrosine:

Pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds, almonds, legumes, yogurt, milk, bananas (contains potassium that relaxes the body by calming the pulse rate), lima beans, blue berries and spirulina are some of the sources of this happy neurotransmitter.

Serotonin rich foods (as Serotonin contributes to various functions, such as regulating body temperature, sleep, mood, appetite, and pain) or foods rich in B-complex vitamins (such as thiamine and folic acid) as they affect serotonin levels or tryptophan rich foods because the brain uses this to produce serotonin (as long as the process is not blocked by conflicting amino acids).

Walnuts (beneficial for serotonin production), flaxseeds (omega-3 fatty acids), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds and cashews, all increase serotonin in the body. Canola, grape-seed, safflower, sunflower, wheat germ oils and gamma-linoleic acids are some of the essential fatty acids that help in serotonin production. Bananas, kiwi, pineapple, plantains, plums, grapefruit, mango, honeydew and cantaloupe are all useful in serotonin production due to their high serum concentration, whereas tomatoes and avocadoes contain nutrients that are necessary for serotonin to develop and reach optimal levels in the brain. Some other sources are brown rice, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals, yeast extracts and brewers' yeast, granola, oatmeal and whole grain cereal. Also, corn, broccoli, cauliflower and green leafy vegetables such as spinach are serotonin-rich.

Soy products, including soymilk, tofu and soybeans provide nutrients that help serotonin levels stay stable. Kelp, seaweed and spirulina are beneficial too as they all contain tryptophan. Lentils, chickpeas, peas, cooked beans (kidney, black, lima, navy and pinto) are good sources of serotonin too.

An important reason to take serotonin rich foods or its precursors is that serotonin affects our sleep. Sleep is the repair mechanism for body stress and mood issues. Improper sleep/stress leads to depletion of vitamins (especially vitamin B1) and minerals (for example calcium, which when we are stressed gets utilized and does not absorb well) faster. Proper sleep also helps in keeping a check on cortisol (a stress hormone). Other ways of managing cortisol are walking and doing things that help in de-stressing.

first published:April 13, 2017, 14:56 IST