Most people know that their diets can impact their physical health. What they might not realize, though, is that their diet can also impact their happiness.
That’s right. Certain foods (and, specifically, the nutrients they contain) can boost your mood, while others can cause it to take a nosedive.
This guide breaks down the benefits of healthy eating, specifically when it comes to increasing your happiness and preventing issues like depression and anxiety.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about the importance of medical nutrition.
What Is Medical Nutrition Therapy?
Medical nutrition therapy combines the medical knowledge of a primary care physician with a personalized nutrition plan.
This multipronged approach can improve your quality of life and reduce your risk of disease while also boosting your mood and helping your mental health.
How Does Healthy Eating Affect Happiness?
Your diet can impact your mood and happiness in several ways. The following are some of the most well-known:
Protein and Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that deliver information from nerve cells to other cells in the body.
Some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine play important roles in controlling your mood, combatting depression, reducing anxiety, and increasing happiness.
The foods you eat can impact neurotransmitter balance. This is especially true of protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, and tofu.
Foods that are high in protein contain amino acids, which are needed to create neurotransmitters. If you don’t get enough protein in your diet — particularly complete proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids the body can’t make on its own — you may find that you’re more susceptible to mood disorders.
Diet and Depression
Certain types of diets have been linked to a decreased risk of depression. This includes the Mediterranean diet, which is composed primarily of fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, legumes, and olive oil.
One study published by Molecular Psychiatry found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet for a 12-year period had a 24 percent reduction in their risk of depression. This likely has to do — at least in part — with the amino acids found in foods like fish, nuts, and legumes.
The Mediterranean diet is also rich in healthy fats. Many types of fish, such as salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fat.
Healthy fats support the brain, which is almost 60 percent fat, according to this article published by Psychology Today. The same article also notes that getting an adequate amount of healthy fats in your diet can minimize symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and bipolar disorder.
Blood Sugar Balance and Anxiety
According to this article from Verywell Health, when your blood sugar levels drop, your body releases epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) to increase glucose production in your liver and raise blood sugar levels.
When adrenaline is released, your body’s “fight or flight” response is also triggered. As a result, you may start to feel anxious.
What causes blood sugar to drop? Going too long without eating can lead to a decrease in blood sugar. Eating lots of refined carbohydrates and sugar can also result in temporary spikes followed by dramatic crashes.
To avoid these issues, aim to eat a diet that contains plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber instead.
Healthy Gut, Happy Mind
Your digestive tract, or gut, is filled with bacteria — some good, some neutral, some bad. If there’s an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, it can actually impact your mood and make you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
According to Professor Felice Jacka of Australia’s Deakin University, a diet high in whole, plant foods, as well as protein and healthy fats, is better for mental health because it contains plenty of fiber.
The bacteria in the gut require fiber to survive and thrive, and Jacka says that the gut is a key “driver of health, including mental health.” This likely has to do with the fact that the majority of the body’s serotonin — an essential neurotransmitter for mood balance — is produced in the gut.
Nutrition Tips for Health and Happiness
It’s helpful to know that your diet can affect your mood. You might be wondering now, though, which foods you should add to or subtract from your diet to experience more happiness.
Here are some effective suggestions you can implement today:
Add: Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of antioxidants.
According to Harvard University, antioxidants are compounds that prevent or slow down the damage caused to the cells by free radicals. They reduce inflammation throughout the body, support the brain, and prevent a variety of illnesses.
Many fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fiber, which benefits the bacteria in the gut and prevents blood sugar swings.
Subtract: Processed Carbs
Processed carbohydrates like crackers, chips, and cookies can be fun to have on occasion, but they shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet if you’re trying to improve your mood.
Processed carbohydrates may provide a quick boost in energy. However, they can also lead to a blood sugar crash later, leaving you feeling sluggish, irritable, or anxious.
Eating more protein can also be beneficial when it comes to improving your mood and feeling happier.
As we mentioned above, protein is an excellent source of amino acids, including the amino acids needed to create mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Consuming plenty of protein can also improve blood sugar balance and prevent many of the symptoms associated with low blood sugar.
Subtract: Sweets and Treats
You don’t have to completely eliminate dessert from your life. However, overdoing it on high-sugar, highly processed foods may be doing more harm than good. This is especially true if you’re struggling with mood swings or issues like depression.
The issue with sweets and treats is not just the fact that they can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes. There’s also a good chance that, if you’re eating a lot of these foods, you’re not eating as many nutrient-dense ones. This can also impact your happiness over time.
Add: Healthy Fats
Healthy fat sources like olive oil, fatty fish, and avocados are great for your brain and your mood.
You don’t need to fear fat. It’s an essential nutrient that keeps your body functioning properly.
As long as you’re getting your fats from whole food sources, there’s no reason why you can’t include them in your diet.
Alcohol is a depressant. It can interfere with the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain and may cause you to feel depressed or anxious.
Frequent, heavy drinking, in particular, is associated with a higher risk of depression, according to this study published by JAMA Psychiatry.
A drink or two on a special occasion might be fine for most people. However, frequent alcohol consumption could be doing more harm than good.
Try Nutrition Therapy in Plantation, FL Today
These general guidelines are beneficial for most people. To see significant improvements in your mood, though, you’ll need a personalized meal plan created by a medical professional.
Are you interested in seeing how medical nutrition therapy can enhance your happiness? If so, reach out to us today to start living healthier and happier.