Munch your way to happiness: Eat leafy greens, nuts & lean meat
Episodes of stress can push you to reach for unhealthy food.
Food doesn’t just impact your body, but your mind too. Making healthier choices in your diet will not only help control your waistline and boost your energy, but will also help lift your mood and make you better focused.
“The kind of food we consume has a direct impact on our body and mind,” said Anjali Kanojia, psychologist at online healthcare company Lybrate. “Food can bring about changes in our brain structure and physiology and, in turn, our mood and behaviour. Foods rich in magnesium, zinc and amino acids such as L-theanine reduce anxiety. Omega-3s alter brain chemicals and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (which makes you feel good). When consumed in the correct manner, food can stimulate good mood and have a positive influence on health.”
Alpa Momaya, senior nutritionist at digital fitness platform HealthifyMe, echoed this.
“Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are responsible for good mood, happiness as well as food cravings,” Momaya said. “The deficiency in these neurotransmitters can lead to conditions like depression, anger, anxiety, sleeplessness and mood swings. The type of food we eat helps in the production of these neurotransmitters.”
Calorie-dense, sugary and starchy food also rich in trans fats that offer very little nutritional value interferes with the bodily functions and adversely affects blood sugar levels as well. This then results in a sudden spike in blood sugar followed by an intense crash that causes anger, fatigue and irritability, said Dishaa Desai, psychologist and outreach associate, Mpower-The Centre, a mental health care provider.
Consistent cyclical moods of anger—highs and lows—can result in creating an environment that exacerbates the preexisting symptoms of depression and anxiety or in forming an environment that serves as a trigger, she said.
Striking A Balance
A balanced diet consisting of whole foods—instead of refined foods, sweets and fried food—can provide all the nutritional requirements such as vitamins, proteins and minerals like selenium and zinc. Unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants can help maintain a good mood and prevent depressed mood states. They can also help people suffering from depressive episodes along with medication in achieving symptom-free states, said Dr Venkatesh Babu, consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru.
Stress And Food
There is a connection between stress and food with short-term and long-term implications. In the short term, stress can suppress one’s appetite as a result of the corticotropin-releasing hormone and epinephrine that trigger the fight-or-flight response that puts eating on hold.
In the long term, when individuals undergo a consistently stressful time in their lives, it becomes almost second nature for them to turn to food for temporary comfort.
“From the biological perspective, the cortisol hormone, that is released when stressed, plays a role in increasing the urge to eat,” Mpower’s Desai said. “Psychologically, food has always played a role in instant gratification, which ends up becoming a cyclical process and a long-term pattern.”
Make Notes, Eat Healthy & Exercise Daily: 7 Ways To Fight Depression
Episodes of stress can push us to reach for unhealthy food. “There is evidence from research to show the increase in cravings for sugary or fatty foods during periods of distress,” Desai added.
This means that addressing stress is crucial for your health for more reasons than one.