Foods and Moods
Health and Nutrition
By Apoorva Joshi
Do you think your food choices affect your moods and mental health?
A lot of recent research shows that what we eat has a huge impact on how we feel. Therefore, what we eat changes not just our physical health but mental health too. Let’s see how.
What makes us happy?
Our brain has two important happy hormones or neurotransmitters named serotonin and dopamine. These are the ones which make you feel good and in-charge of your emotions. When the levels of these hormones are low, you feel sad, low on energy, anxious, and more.
How do we make more happy hormones?
Pic Courtesy: Lucia Calfapietra
Even though serotonin is required in the brain, 90% of it is made in your gut! That means to be happy, you need to keep your gut healthy.
Dopamine works as a part of the reward system. When you do something that you like (playing an online game), your dopamine level rises. The same thing happens when you eat something you like. But if you keep eating only the things you like all the time, they will stop giving you the same level of a dopamine rush.
So, it is important to eat both what is good for health and find the balance.
Different food strategies for managing moods
- Balance your meals. When you eat something sugary or carbohydrate-rich, your brain gets a sudden rush of energy but our energy even falls quickly. And that sudden fall makes you crave something carbohydrate-rich again. To avoid this, use the proportions in the plate model below to fill your plate. Have half the plate filled with vegetables. One fourth with proteins like dals, pulses, milk products, meat, fish, eggs, etc. And the remaining one fourth with carbohydrates like grain-based items. e.g. roti, rice, pasta, bread, etc.
Pic Courtesy: wellandgood.com
- Keep your gut healthy: When your gut has a variety of bacteria growing, you get protection against different diseases and also have more balanced moods and feelings. Your gut acts like a bird feeder. When you put a variety of feeds (different grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds), you attract a variety of birds (different strains of bacteria). You can also have some prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotic are foods like onions, garlic, banana, asparagus, potatoes, etc. that the gut bacteria feed on. Probiotics are foods containing live bacteria that are good for the gut. e.g. curd, fermented drinks like kanji, pickled vegetables, kefir, kombucha, etc.
- Include good fats: 60% of our brain is made out of fat. However, not all fat is good for you. To keep the brain healthy, we must include omega-3 fatty acids. These are present in oily fish, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. These will also improve heart health, and reduce the risk of mental health disorders like Alzheimer’s or depression.
A healthy mind needs a healthy body to reside in and vice versa. Our food must ensure that we keep both mind and body healthy.