#68: How Food affects your Mood and Overall Happiness

March 17, 2021

#68: How Food affects your Mood and Overall Happiness

Hello & Happy Wednesday! 

I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy as we inch closer and closer to the end of this pandemic. There is definitely a light at the end of this tunnel and every day it gets closer and closer. As of today, more than 90 million people have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. That means that approximately 10% of people living in the United States are vaccinated! 

I don’t know about you, but this makes me so happy and so proud. I’m happy because as I always knew in my heart, when we are faced with a challenge or a problem, there are always people working on finding a solution. It’s something I believe and have always believed about the nature of people. I’m also proud of all of the people that despite their reservations about receiving the vaccine, did so with faith and are helping us finally see some progress in the fight against this beast that is Covid. 

Anyway, today I wanted to reach out and talk about a topic that is all the buzz in medicine today and I’m seeing a trend with my very savvy parents in the office that I love! Many of these new families are choosing to be intentional about what they are feeding their kids and developing healthy habits early on. YES! YES! YES!!!! Preventing disease is always easier than treating them!

Our bodies are amazing and interestingly enough there is still so much we don’t understand about the human body, which is what makes medicine so fascinating. God or a higher power (whatever you believe) created our bodies to function on their own in a delicate balance. Our job is to take care of our bodies so that it is able to function at its highest capacity. One of the most important ways to do this is through the food we eat. 

New studies are focusing on the gut-mind relationship and the results are not only interesting but practical and doable. Here’s what I mean. We know that there are millions of serotonin receptors lining our gut. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical. The more we have in our body, the happier we feel and the less we feel depressed. (in basic terms). 

Serotonin is the chemical that most antidepressants try to increase in our brains to help with our mood disorders. So while food of course is not going to be enough to treat a person with a diagnosed mood disorder, there is more and more evidence that we can most definitely alter the levels of serotonin with the foods and drinks we consume. 

So what are these foods? Basically the foods that increase serotonin levels are whole foods like real fruits and vegetables(the more colorful the better), lean proteins like fish, eggs, unsweetened yogurt and legumes. Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa do the same. The foods that decrease the availability of serotonin are the processed foods that are high in refined sugars and white flour, like crackers, bread and baked goods. Drinks with high levels of sugar do the same, such as sodas and sugary sweets. While you may not notice right away, and might even feel a sudden energy boost when consuming these foods, the reality is that these foods alter your mood and a few hours later, you will feel tired, moody and unmotivated. 

In Australia, a study was done that showed that those who ate more fruits and vegetables felt happier, and reported higher levels of life satisfaction. This in turn resulted in increased employment for those who were unemployed and improved perceived relationships with others. This is interesting since unfortunately many low-income families are the ones consuming a diet high in processed and ultra-processed foods, since they are cheaper and often easier to obtain.

So what can YOU do today to help begin making a change for you and your family? For starters you can start to pay attention to how you feel after you eat certain foods. Teach your kids to do the same. If they are tired and cranky after that Starbucks run or filling up with bread and crackers, pay attention and talk to them about it. 

Like all changes we make in life, starting is the hardest part, but the easiest at the same time. When you start to make changes, start small. Make it a goal to eat 1-2 more fruits and vegetables with every meal. Serve them to your kids, even if they don’t eat them! Kids sometimes have to see, touch and smell foods several times before they ever taste them! 

When grocery shopping pay attention to the amounts of processed snacks you buy vs the amount of fruits and vegetables you buy. At home, cut up the apple or cantaloupe and put it on the dining room table and watch your kids gobble them up when they get home starving after school! You know how it goes, you buy apples and no one bites into it. You sit down, cut your apple and start eating it and everyone wants a piece! Another easy way to incorporate more of these foods is to add them to some of your family’s favorite recipes. 

Being intentional about what you consume will give you long term health effects as well. More data is showing the connection between inflammatory disorders and our diets. This is always a hard sell when talking to young kids and teens about healthy diet choices. They don’t see the benefits right away and may not be used to seeing fruits and vegetables in the house. This is why no matter what age your kids are (or you are for that matter!) it’s never too early or too late to start making a change. 

Remember “Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.”

Share with a friend, comment and download some examples of foods that help boost your mood to start you and your family on the road of a healthy lifestyle, better mood and overall well-being. Have you noticed that certain foods affect your mood? I’d love to hear about it! Is there a recipe that your family loves that is rich in these serotonin boosting foods? If not, make your own!

For a free download of foods that positively affect your mood:

Have a beautiful and healthy day! 

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

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