Food for Thought: What You Eat Affects Your Mental and Emotional Health

Everyone knows what it's like to feel hangry (hungry + angry). And it's not pleasant. We find ourselves irritated at the slightest inconvenience, and we resort to desperate (and speedy) measures to satisfy our cravings. And we usually end up over-indulging in some not-so-healthy options — Ben & Jerry's, anyone?

It's well-known that nutrition affects physical health, but it also directly affects your emotional and mental well-being. Let's dive into how food correlates with your mood and what you can do to keep your mind and body healthy and happy.

The Science Behind It All

You might not know it, but your brain and gastrointestinal tract have a close relationship. The gut-brain connection is real; your GI tract contains billions of bacteria that contribute to the production of neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages to the brain). Healthy foods help grow good bacteria in your GI tract, positively affecting the production of neurotransmitters. Good food = good mood.

Unhealthy, sugar-heavy foods can cause inflammation, which hinders neurotransmitter production. Sugar also feeds "bad" bacteria in the GI tract. So why do we feel so good when we have that cookie or scoop of ice cream? Sugary treats release "feel good" neurotransmitters (like dopamine), and they quickly raise your blood sugar levels — ever heard of a sugar rush? And We all know what happens next: the crash. Your blood sugar levels drop as your cells absorb the sugar, leaving you feeling jittery and maybe even anxious. Studies have shown that a high-sugar diet leads to a greater risk of depression.

When your neurotransmitter production gets out of hand, your mood might, too. Healthy diets will keep your mood stable and help you stay energized and focused throughout the day.

Mood-boosting Foods

Check out these specific foods that will help improve your mood and clarity and leave you satisfied.

—Fruits and Veggies: We all know how great these are for our physical health. But studies have shown that fruits and vegetables have been linked to higher levels of happiness. Try whipping up a tangy smoothie, or put together a colorful salad for a satisfying, healthy lunch.

—Chocolate: I know, we just mentioned some harmful side effects of sugar, but hear us out. Chocolate (especially dark) has properties that can improve your mood and reduce stress levels. Just make sure you're eating it in moderation!

—Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3s work wonders for your brain. They can help fight anxiety and depression and promote brain health during pregnancy and early life. Foods rich in omega-3s include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, oysters), flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

Quick Tips

In addition to incorporating the above foods into your diet, here are a few tips you can add to your routine that will also boost your mood and help fight off stress.

—Eat regularly: When your blood sugar drops, you'll typically feel irritable, tired, and even depressed. When you eat regularly throughout the day, you'll keep your sugar levels steady. Try some slow-release energy foods like rice, pasta, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oats. You can also eat smaller meals instead of three large ones during the day.

—Stay hydrated: Drinking water is cheap, healthy, and easy. Make sure you get the recommended amount of H2O (6–8 glasses) a day to help you concentrate and think clearly.

—Get enough protein: Protein is made up of amino acids, which make up chemicals brains need to help regulate feelings and thoughts. Protein will also keep you feeling full for extended periods of time.

—Watch your caffeine intake: As a stimulant, caffeine offers quick bursts of energy. But those short bursts turn into afternoon slumps, which can leave you feeling depressed or anxious. Caffeine can also interrupt your sleep patterns, especially if you consume it closer to bedtime. Try avoiding caffeine or limiting your consumption.

At OnSite Wellness, health and wellness is our specialty. Incorporating a wellness program at your workplace can greatly benefit your employees in tracking and managing a healthy lifestyle.

Let us help you reach your goals and set your employees up for success! Contact us today to get started.