Foods And Their Effect On Our Mental State
It’s an age-old saying of sorts – you are what you eat. But how much truth does this really hold? As it turns out, quite a lot. While we are aware of the fact that what we eat surely helps us keep our physical shape healthy, it’s worth noting that what we put in our body also has a big impact on our minds – the right food for mental health.
The quality and type of the food that we consume on a daily basis play a crucial role in the way we think, feel, and experience emotions. Many people go for their favourite comfort food when they’re feeling low or upset or even angry. Why’s that so? It’s because food and moods are connected.
So, how does it all work?
Understanding the way our brain functions and the numerous changes that occur in one’s body are instrumental to figuring out why we end up behaving or feeling a specific way.
In our bodies, we have a thing called neurotransmitters, and they’re assigned with an interesting job. They are the chemical messengers between our nerves, and help these nerves communicate with each other. The right kind and amount of transmitters for a communication are critical. We feel a plethora of emotions – we feel happy, sad, loved, intimate with another, motivated, excited, scared – all because of these neurotransmitters.
A lot of us could be living with imbalances in these neurotransmitters, resulting in changed behavioural patterns, which could mean mood swings, unusual reactions to usual events, cravings, etc. We can look closely at our lifestyles to understand the causes of these imbalances in the neurotransmitters. Many a times, it’s because of a faulty lifestyle that these imbalances occur in the first place.
So, what makes these neurotransmitters? The simplest answer is food. Everything we eat, serves as the building block for the neurotransmitters. The cleaner we eat, the better will be the quality of the building blocks for the neurotransmitters. This is also why fad diets and crash diets do not work – they eventually strip the meals of the very essential nutrients that are required for the manufacture of these neurotransmitters. As a result, we feel unhappy, sad, deprived, and even anxious while we are following a diet, although it was our decision to go on a crash diet.
Given below are some of the important neurotransmitters that are in charge of making us feel a certain way and what types of foods that boost moods:
• Serotonin: This one is responsible for the wholesome feeling of wellbeing and happiness.
1. A lack of it can cause us to feel sad without any reason;
2. Almost 95% of the serotonin is produced in the gut of the body;
3. It’s made up of a vital amino acid – tryptophan. The sources of the same are bananas, pineapples, all nuts, kiwis, tofu, whole eggs, cheese, etc.
4. With low levels of serotonin, one may experience loneliness, depression, and may even develop an unhealthy habit of attention seeking.
• Dopamine/motivation molecule: This one here is responsible for making us feel pleasure or motivated.
1. A lack of it can make a person feel demotivated to do a job, study, go to work, etc. It can also lead to not finding any pleasure in things and activities that we otherwise find pleasurable;
2. It’s made from an amino acid called tyrosine;
3. Its rich sources are avocados, chocolate, spinach, almonds, all types of seeds, yogurt, etc.
• GABA: This one is in charge of making us feel calm and focused.
1. A lack of it can cause one to feel hyperactive or with a lower level of concentration/focus.
2. Its sources are non-GMO soy, rice, mushrooms, potatoes, fermented foods, etc.
• Acetylcholine:This is responsible for changing the perception of pain or stress.
1. A lack of it can cause one to experience anxiety and moodiness;
2. Its sources are chocolate and spicy foods. An adequate amount of exercising also produces endorphins in the body.
• Endorphins:This here is responsible for creativity and muscle action & reaction.
1. A lack of it can lead to slow muscle reaction (and may even contribute to progressive diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, certain ASLs);
2. Its sources are beans, rajma, chana, green peas, radishes, spinach, strawberries, whole eggs, etc.
• Oxytocin: This one is responsible for making us feel relaxed, loved, intimate and capable of making intimate bonds and relationships.
1. A lack of it can cause one to experience anxiety or even fear.
2. Ways to boost oxytocin include orgasms (for both males and females), lovemaking, childbirth, breastfeeding, human touch, holding hands, giving & receiving gifts, etc.
What keeps these neurotransmitters balanced?
A number of things can cause for an imbalance to occur in the neurotransmitters. A poor diet, stress, and lack of sleep are some of the well-known causes of these imbalances. There are a few exceptional cases wherein the imbalance is a genuine one and isn’t dependent on any external factors, but more often than not, it’s because of a faulty lifestyle.
Food is the fuel required for these neurotransmitters, so one can provide the right kind of fuel or the wrong type, depending upon their eating habits. Fad diets seldom work in the case of neurological health & neurotransmitters since these diets deprive the body of the vital nutrients that are needed for the production of these neurotransmitters. Additionally, refined sugar, MSG, and other stimulants like tea & coffee all act as neuro exciters. Stress is a major factor for draining us of dopamine and serotonin. To maintain this balance, one needs a diverse diet containing several foods for mental health - a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, cereals, and amino acids.
Another way to boost the health of the neurotransmitters in your body is to practice intermittent fasting, which includes only 10-12 hours of eating in a day and the rest of the day spent in fasting.
While medications play an important role and none of the above can act as a replacement for any of your medicines, sometimes, understanding the depth as well as the health of your neurotransmitters can reveal a lot about why we feel the way we feel. Through this understanding, you can make changes in your lifestyle, diet and take necessary steps to stay healthy physically and mentally.
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