We’ve all heard the adage ‘you are what you eat’, but what else might that mean? Everyone knows that eating healthy foods and exercising helps to keep our bodies in good working order and can stave off lifestyle-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But is there more to it than that?
The fact is, as well as impacting our physical function, what we eat can influence our emotions and moods. Good nutrition can play an important role in preventing and helping one to manage feelings such as depression and anxiety. Think about the last time you ate an incredibly rich, sugar-laden donut, possibly accompanied by a cup of coffee. Chances are that by the time you finished your indulgence, your heart rate was elevated and you felt physically different, perhaps even a bit jittery. These are symptoms of anxiety that then have the capacity to influence how we respond to other environmental stimuli.
Food can also have positive effects on our mood, as the consumption of different nutrients can increase the production of chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, which can help promote feelings of wellbeing, happiness, and pleasure. There is a reason that chicken soup is a traditional cure-all when one is not feeling well – the stock in the soup helps the body produce gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which promotes calmness.
So next time you are feeling stressed, run-down or sad, instead of turning to that square (or block) of chocolate, or that tub of ice cream, complement your physical response with some healthier snacks – perhaps avocado and cottage cheese, a banana, or some almonds and pumpkin seeds – a little drizzle of honey or some carob can help with that hit of sweetness you might be craving, without taking things over the edge and making you feel worse.
Bingley-Pullin, Zoe 2015, ‘Eating for mental health: mood and nutrition, what’s the link?’, http://www.zoebingleypullin.com/eating-for-mental-health-mood-and-nutrition-whats-the-link/.
Meryment, Elizabeth 2010, ‘Better your mood with food’, http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/nutrition/nutrition+tips/better+your+mood+with+food,7609.