There are various sources of stress whether it be work related, relational issues, health concerns, or other daily worries. Things like exercise and time outside are encouraged as a way to positively affect our mood and reduce stress. When it comes to our eating habits, we often hear about particular foods linked to increased energy levels and improved physical health. What about mental health though? What does our mood have to do with our food? Surely, it’s unlikely to hear someone say, “My food is really stressing me out.” But it turns out, the old saying “you are what you eat” is ringing true in more ways than one. Consider further evidence of the link between food and its affects on mental health.
An expecting mother will carefully choose what she eats to ensure her developing baby is getting needed nutrients and “brain food” for the brain of her developing fetus. According to nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, “Antioxidants protect the baby’s brain tissue from damage” (S. Kuzemchak, 2018). Dark leafy greens, blueberries, and other dark colored fruits and vegetables provide the most antioxidants. Like a developing fetus, our brains need antioxidants for protection from free radicals – waste produced when the body uses oxygen, which can cause damage to the cells. Eating nutrient rich foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain, while protecting it from damaging free radicals, or oxidative damage. Poor nutrition is taxing to the immune system putting one at risk for free radical damage, premature aging, among other health risks.
Think of when you let a cut up apple sit out. It becomes brown from oxidation. That is exactly what we don’t want to happen to our brains. Just as we fuel our vehicles to keep them properly running, we want to fuel our brains. Choosing high quality fuel will produce the best results. Speaking of apples and brains, eating “an apple a day” may actually help “keep the doctor away” since it contains powerful and beneficial antioxidants. A study at Cornell found apples to protect brain cells against oxidative stress, since they contain high levels of quercetin (G, Stemilt. 2016). It is recommended to eat the entire apple, including the skin, to reap all of the benefits. So why not try out the old saying and give your brain a boost by eating an apple a day!
In seeing the positive effects healthy eating has on our brains, naturally we have to question “how does food actually affect our mood?” Often times we are looking for a quick fix in this fast paced world when it comes to meal time. With fast food restaurants being readily available, it has become even easier to grab something to eat without really considering nutritional benefits. Our enteric nervous system (ENS) which directly controls our gastrointestinal system is said to be our “second brain,” with 95% of serotonin being produced in the intestinal tract. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain (E, Selhub, 2018). Since our GI tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, it makes sense that our digestive system guides our emotions. Researchers believe that serotonin (also called “the happiness hormone”) imbalance influences mood which may influence anxiety and depression. Production of neurotransmitters like serotonin is highly influenced by the good bacteria in our gut. Probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in this regard.
Finding ways to balance serotonin and other neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin, is key to maintaining wellness and improving mental health. One essential way is to be mindful of what foods we’re eating since it directly effects the health of our GI tract, which is so closely linked to our emotions. The process our body goes through when breaking down foods and using them for fuel is a very extensive one. Thus, eating high quality foods is vital to getting the best quality of fuel for our bodies. Below are some tips to boost serotonin, which in turn reduces stress and improves overall well-being.
Tips for improving serotonin levels to improve mental health:Mindful eating
• Take good quality probiotics – Probiotics are the good bacteria found in the gut, which can increase serotonin levels. Dr. David Williams explains the benefits of probiotics and the connection between gut health and mental health at drdavidwilliams.com. He is known as a pioneer in the field of probiotics.
• Exercise – Exercise is known for releasing endorphins, but did you know taking a walk or exercising for just 20 minutes can boost serotonin levels? A little fresh air and sunlight can do wonders.
• Practice Mindfulness – taking time to be present prevents anxious thoughts, allowing one to enjoy the moment and make more meaningful connections with others. This includes being mindful of what we’re eating, thinking, and saying.
• Positive affirmations – We are what we think. Positive thinking improves our overall state of mind, promoting harmony between the mind and body. “I am” statements gives greater opportunity for positive outcomes through a more positive outlook and approach.
• Eat nutrient dense foods – Healthier (mindful) eating habits provides benefits to the brain, which effects our mood and mental health. High quality foods will give you a higher quality of life, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Remember, don’t drink your calories with thinks like soda or other drinks with high sugar content.
• Eliminate or reduce sugar intake – Too much sugar is taxing to the body. Try replacing sugary snacks with healthier options like fresh fruit or trail mix.
• Get a massage – Massage is a perfect way to remove toxins, promote restful sleep, and relieve stress. Essential oils like lavender can be used to aid in relaxation during massage, which has also been shown to increase serotonin levels. Treat yourself to a little relaxation. It just might do you a lot of good!
• Get enough rest – Adequate sleep helps reduce stress and produce serotonin, which improves mood and helps control appetite (healthy eating + restful sleep = improved serotonin levels and improved mental health!)
Practicing these tips can help bring your mind and body into greater balance, improving mental health and overall wellness. If you would like additional support please schedule a free consultation today to get connected with Pittsburgh’s best therapists & coaches!
About Makin Wellness :
Founded in 2017 , Makin Wellness is Pittsburgh’s premier therapy and coaching centers located in Downtown , Pittsburgh and New Kensington, PA. The company’s mission is to help people heal and become happy again. Makin Wellness specializes in depression, anxiety, addiction, relationship counseling & more .