The Happiness Diet: What You Should Eat to Stay Happy

A celebrity nutritionist decodes mental nutrition and suggests foods that will help you deal with Covid-19 anxiety and stress

We have often heard that what we eat impacts our mood. For instance, when we feel low, we crave for chocolates and ice cream, when we need a little energy, we resort to coffee for that caffeine kick. Several studies and research have proven that our mood is linked to food. Ryan Fernando, celebrity nutritionist and founder Qua Nutrition, who’s clients include Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma, explains the link between mental well being and food. He says,It is well understood that a lack of vital nutrients leads to poor mental health in people suffering from bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, depression and ADHD.  A neurotransmitter known as Serotonin aids in appetite control, sleep regulation, and mood regulation. Around 90%-95% of the serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. In the human body, approximately one hundred million nerve cells or neurons are linked to the digestive system, which explains why our digestive system is not just restricted to digest food but also play a significant role in influencing our emotions. The presence of good bacteria in your gut microbiome promotes the production of serotonin and also aids in the function of neurons.”

How diet supports mental wellbeing

Diet supports mental health by providing the brain with the nutrients it needs to build and establish new connections, reduce inflammation, and improve gut health. Ryan explains how foods influence the function of brain cells.

1. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor 

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), is a neurohormone that regulates nueroplasticity  i.e. new neural connections are created overtime, that defines how adaptive is the brain to the changing environment.

Both Alzheimer’s disease and depression are linked to low levels of the BDNF.  Certain nutrients like zinc, magnesium,DHA, and the omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to boost BDNF expression.

2. Inflammation

Inflammation causes oxidative stress in the brain, which may lead to depression, anxiety, or both. Inflammation can be reduced significantly by avoiding refined carbohydrates, fats, and processed vegetable oils.

Pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced by the body, whenever it undergoes the emotional stress. An anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3-rich fatty fish like salmon and mackerel can be a good option as a dietary intervention for such cases.

Anti-inflammatory properties of DHA have been related to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease as well as a reduction in depression.

3. Gut microbiome

The effect of the gut microbiome on GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter associated with number of health issues such as depression, insomnia and anxiety disorders has a significant impact on our response to stress and anxiety.

GABA production can be better regulated and its stimulating properties can be enhanced when the microbiome is populated with good bacteria. On the other hand, an overabundance of bad bacteria will disrupt the GABA system, reducing the ability to cope with stress.

Avoiding processed foods and adding more fiber-rich, prebiotic & probiotic foods to your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, yoghurt, kefir, garlic, cabbage and onion will encourage the growth of good bacteria in your gut, resulting in a more balanced microbiome.

 

The happiness diet 

There are certain key nutrients in mental nutrition. Ryan lists out those nutrients and the food sources from where you can get these. 

Omega 3: It plays a critical role in the brain's growth, work, and ageing. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two omega-3 fatty acids that have been related to mental wellbeing.

Food Sources: Walnuts, flaxseeds, fish—salmon and mackerel, kale, spinach

Expert tip: 2 walnuts before you go to bed will help calm you down and promote better sleep.

Vitamin B12: The production of brain chemicals that influence mental functions is supported by Vitamin B-12, along with the other B vitamins. Low levels of them have been related to depression.

Food Sources: Eggs, milk, curd, salmon 

Expert tip: Do a food allergy/ gene test to determine whether or not milk and its products is beneficial for your body. 

Iron: Variety of neuronal functions is supported by Iron and its deficiency is linked to anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as developmental issues.

Food sources: Kidney beans, amaranth, pumpkin seeds, moringa, berries

Magnesium: The release of stress hormones such as cortisol in the body is controlled by magnesium. It also calms the body’s nervous system. The deficiency of magnesium is linked to fatigue, stress, irregular sleep and depression.

Food Source: Spinach, black beans, almonds, brown rice, kale, buckwheat

Zinc: Zinc is essential for the proper functioning of the central nervous system, as well as the regulation of brain activity and the activation of the prefrontal cortex, which regulates the logical part of the brain that assists us in making decisions. It's also important for determining how the body reacts to stress.

Food sources: Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, garlic, chickpeas

However, each person has a unique metabolism, a unique set of genes, a unique set of behaviours, and a unique ability to react. Hence a standard diet might not be the solution. Ryan recommends you seek assistance from a nutritionist to ensure you're eating the best foods for a happier you.

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