Foods to Improve Your Well-Being
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You may know what you put on your plate can nourish your body, but did you know certain foods can also affect the way you feel? The idea of food influencing mood has become a major field of study with research crediting an improved diet:
- Gives you more energy
- Helps you think more clearly
- Improves your mood, decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression
Food and function
While food and dietary changes can be helpful in improving mood challenges, they aren’t the only treatment. Medications prescribed and managed by a seasoned practitioner, along with therapy, are critical. At the same time, giving some thought to quality sleep, mindful movement and an improved diet with better food can be a powerful, supportive strategy.
The gut: your second brain
Nutritional psychiatry focuses on how certain foods change brain structure, chemistry and physiology. Increasing research in this field suggests the foods we eat directly influence our brain neurotransmitter systems which, in turn, influences our emotions. This association has been called the gut-brain connection or the gut-brain axis. This axis is not fully understood; however, imbalances in the gut environment could play a role in our stress response through poor signaling between the two organs. Our gastrointestinal system, or gut, is even considered a “second brain” given all the chemical messaging it is responsible for in the system.
How does it work?
There are millions of bacteria in our gut which make up our unique, personal microbiome. Many of these bacteria help to digest the food we eat and produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin—the hormones that make us happy and contribute significantly to our mood. These neurotransmitters are chemical messages that enable conversations between the gut and the brain. Feeding the bad bacteria with ultra-processed foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grains increases the risk of health issues including obesity and heart disease. Instead, we can feed the good bacteria with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, etc.—the elements of a Mediterranean diet—which reduce the risk of disease.
Good mood foods
When thinking about your diet and foods to consume for a better mood, consider these tips from Harvard University’s Uma Naidoo, MD, author of The Food Mood Connection:
- Select whole foods and minimize packaged foods
- Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Eat enough fiber:
- Men benefit from approximately 40 grams of fiber per day
- Women benefit from approximately 25 grams per day
- Choose whole grains such as oatmeal and brown rice and legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas
- Reduce added sugars when possible
- Add fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi to your diet
- Enjoy a balance of lean proteins including seafood (particularly the omega-3 rich, fatty fish such as salmon or tuna), chicken and turkey
Research on mood-boosting foods is ongoing and certainly, more is needed to understand the complex systems that influence the link between food and mental well-being. Consulting with your doctor and meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you find creative, yet practical, ways to enhance your food/dietary intake and improve your mood!
To schedule a one-on-one consultation with a Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to build healthy eating patterns or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition, visit cooperclinicnutrition.com or call 972.560.2655.
Article provided by Meridan Zerner, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, CWC, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.
- Naidoo, U. (2020). The Food-Mood Connection: An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight. Short Books.