Yes, you read that correctly: it's possible to eat your way to happiness.
I'm not talking about guzzling your way though gallons of ice cream until you pass out in a dazed stupor. I'm talking about choosing your meals wisely and consuming foods that boost your mood.
The food you eat affects the way you feel, whether or not you realize it. Think about it: on a stressful day comfort food can make you feel better, and after a long period of healthy eating consuming an entire box of Oreos will probably leave you feeling depressed. Small changes in your diet can give you energy or sap every last drop of it from your body.
It all comes down to brain chemicals and the signals they send to the rest of your body. Eating something starchy for breakfast, for example, signals to your brain that your blood sugar is at an adequate level making you less likely to crave carbs later in the day. Depriving your brain of glucose leads to low-energy and irritability, while eating carbohydrates boosts the brain chemical – serotonin – that makes you feel relaxed and happy.
Another chemical linked to mood regulation, called galanin, is linked to excessive fat consumption. High-fat lunches should be avoided to beat the notorious late-afternoon slump when your mood is low and your energy has flatlined. For dinner, try to have have a fatty fish like salmon 2-3 times per week for the omega-3 fats they're full of, and don't eat heavy meals too close to bedtime to avoid heartburn and indigestion. If you're having trouble sleeping, try a carbohydrate-rich snack like a slice of whole-grain toast with jam 30-60 min before bed. The snack will boost your level of serotonin, making you calm and drowsy.
To keep mood and energy swings at bay throughout the day, try incorporating foods like these into your diet:
- dark-green leafy vegetables
- low-fat milk or yogurt
- wheat germ
Studies have also shown that the more “real foods” people eat, the happier and healthier they are. Reach for unprocessed foods – the kind that don't come equipped with a long list of ingredients – to keep your blood sugar at an ideal level, and keep up a regular exercise routine. In combination, a diet of unprocessed foods and a regular fitness regime will produce a leaner, healthier body naturally.