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The Connection Between the Foods We Eat and the Emotions We Feel

If you've ever watched the movie "Inside Out" directed by Pete Docter, you've seen how the feelings of 11-year-old Riley affect the decisions she makes in her life. In the film, we are presented characters who resemble a human's essential spectrum of emotions, including joy, disgust, anger, fear, and our favourite, sadness. Have you ever thought about the effects of the foods we put into our bodies? Do they affect our behaviour around others or the emotions we feel? A particular food may boost certain emotions over others, making us feel and react in a certain way.


Disney movie "Inside out" Directed by Pete Docter, image from https://whatsondisneyplus.com/tag/inside-out/.


How can food affect what we feel?

Our bodies contain hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate our emotions, influencing both their intensity and frequency. Essential nutrients like vitamin B6 and folate play a pivotal role in the production of neurotransmitters.


Some neurotransmitters include dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocins, known as our feel-good hormones. Adrenaline is a hormone commonly linked with the stress response, while cortisol is often referred to as our primary stress hormone.


Serotonin is a specific hormone that plays a regulatory role. Increased serotonin production is associated with feelings of happiness, while reduced production can contribute to feelings of sadness and depression.


Approximately 90% of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, are synthesized and reside within the gastrointestinal tract. Among these neurotransmitters is Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which conveys chemical messages to our brain.


A pro tip is to aim to consume whole foods that closely resemble their organic state. Scientifically, increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals has been shown to enhance feelings of happiness. Certain nutrients play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy mood, including:

  • Iron

  • Folate

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)

  • Magnesium

  • potassium

  • thiamine

  • Vitamins A, C, B6 and B12,

  • zinc


Did you know that 22% of patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety lack vitamin B12? At the same time, 36% have low normal B12 levels? A decrease in B12 levels affects the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which regulate our feeling of happiness.


The influence of processed and whole foods on our mood:

Processed Foods



You may have heard the saying "you are what you eat." We have recognized that whole foods have a beneficial effect on our physical and mental well-being. However, considering the tendencies of our current generation, it is common for processed foods rich in sugar, sodium, and refined carbohydrates to be an everyday part of our diets. Some of us don't even think twice about the chemicals and toxins that we expose ourselves to through these choices.


A recent research study showed that people who eat highly processed foods have a 28% higher rate of negative cognitive behaviours than those who eat less of such foods. This is due to the lack of nutrients; our bodies require much more in order to function at a healthy standard.


The excessive sodium, sugar and fats in processed foods replace the essential vitamins and minerals that we require. The additional glucose in these foods may cause inflammation in the brain leading to disorders such as depression, anxiety as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.


As good as they may taste, processed foods are also more difficult for our bodies to digest. When our bodies cannot digest these foods, it leads to discomfort, gas, acid reflux and bloating.


Whole Foods



Whole foods contain antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and amino acids. It's essential that we live on a nutrient-rich diet to ensure a long, healthy and high-quality life.


There are certain foods which play a significant role in the production of our essential hormones. For example, a diet based on lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and a wide range of produce can increase the production of serotonin as well as dopamine which elevates motivation and concentration.


Improving your gut health is also essential; include more prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods or supplements. They are known to produce more serotonin in the gut, making us feel more positive and content. Probiotics introduce a range of healthy gut bacteria while prebiotics, such as fibre, are crucial to maintain these microbes which may feed on this fibre. This is called microbiome therapy.


Amino acids play a substantial role in the way a healthy body functions. They help us break down foods, produce hormones and brain chemicals, maintain a healthy digestive system as well as boost our immune systems.


Tryptophan is an amino acid that people aren't much familiar with. Although it is not produced by our body, we can implement it in our diets with high-protein foods, including:

  • Milk

  • Butter

  • Egg yolks

  • Fish

  • Meat

  • Turkey

  • Peanut

  • Almonds

  • Cottage Cheese


Research shows that individuals who have switched their diets towards whole foods and focused on improving gut health increase their life span by 3.5 years!


Eating whole foods and maintaining a balanced diet also increases immunity and prevents us from daunting diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.


How can we make changes to our diet to ensure healthy living?


Leading a healthy life through nurturing a well-developed gut requires both time and patience. Learning what suits your body comes with experiences. It entails incorporating certain foods into our diets while also eliminating others.


Foods to include in your diet:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (Raw)

    • Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients; eating them raw preserves their nutritional value.

  • Whole grains such as oatmeal, barley, brown rice and quinoa

    • These whole grains are the closest you will find to their organic state. They are much better than bread and pasta. They also have much more fat and fibre to keep you fueled.

  • Nuts, beans and seeds

    • Raw nuts, beans and seeds offer excellent healthy fats and protein. They are heart-healthy and will keep you feeling full for a long time.

  • Eggs

    • Eggs are also packed with loads of protein. The vitamin D found in eggs helps promote bone health and immunity.

  • Fish

    • Fish are the best source of many nutrients. They are low in fat and high in protein. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids.


Things to exclude or reduce from your diet:

  • Foods high in refined sugars (candy, soda, energy drinks and baked goods)

    • Excessive sugar in a diet causes many problems, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Such foods increase blood sugar spikes making you crave more refined foods.

  • Fried foods (burgers, fries, pizza, fried chicken etc.)

    • Fried foods are high in saturated fats, which are not the fats we should aim at consuming in excess as their high intake can lead to heart attacks, artery disease and strokes.

  • Food with additives

    • Consider eating foods with a short ingredient list; many chemicals today are used to preserve and keep foods fresh, but they aren't good for our gut.

  • Flour-based items ( Breads, cakes, cookies and crackers)

    • These foods high in refined carbohydrates also cause an immediate spike in blood sugar. This makes the drop back to normal pretty significant, meaning we may feel a boost of energy one second and then suddenly feel nothing.


Conclusion

To conclude, the food we consume may affect various aspects of our lives, including the emotions we feel. For this reason, it's essential to start the day with something that will keep you fueled for a long while also providing benefits to your mind and body.


The connection between the nutrients we consume and emotions we feel is frequently overlooked; we often find ourselves compelled to consume whatever is placed before us or what we're craving the most.


Now that you have learned the benefits and effects of the foods you implement in your diet, you can work towards living a long life filled with happiness and health. Remember, "you are what you eat." Start strong today - eat well, live well.


Bibliography

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  • Cleveland Clinic. “Amino Acid: Benefits & Food Sources.” Cleveland Clinic, 22 Dec. 2021, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22243-amino-acids.

  • ---. “Does What You Eat Affect Your Mood?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 12 Jan. 2021, health.clevelandclinic.org/bad-mood-look-to-your-food/.

  • “Depression: Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Risk.” Www.medicalnewstoday.com, 22 May 2023, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ultra-processed-foods-may-increase-depression-risk-long-term-study-shows#:~:text=A%20recent%20study%20found%20that%20people%20who%20ate%20the%20most. Accessed 19 Aug. 2023.

  • “Human Biology - Food and Digestion - Biology Online Tutorial.” Biology Articles, Tutorials & Dictionary Online, 30 Jan. 2020, www.biologyonline.com/tutorials/human-biology-food-and-digestion.

  • Revival, I. V. “The Link between Whole Foods and Longevity.” IV Revival, 20 Feb. 2023, ivrevival.com/the-link-between-whole-foods-and-longevity/#:~:text=Eat%20Whole%20Foods%20and%20Live%20Longer&text=Studies%20have%20shown%20that%20even. Accessed 19 Aug. 2023.

  • Robertson, Ruairi. “The Gut-Brain Connection: How It Works and the Role of Nutrition.” Healthline, 27 June 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2.

  • Sangle, Prerna, et al. “Vitamin B12 Supplementation: Preventing Onset and Improving Prognosis of Depression.” Cureus, vol. 12, no. 10, 26 Oct. 2020, https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.11169.

  • Trakulkongsmut, Phaisit . “8 Key Factors behind the Production of Happiness Hormones.” Www.samitivejhospitals.com, 11 June 2020, www.samitivejhospitals.com/article/detail/happiness-hormones.

  • Valizadeh, Maryam, and Nasim Valizadeh. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as Early Manifestation of B12 Deficiency.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, vol. 33, no. 2, July 2011, pp. 203–204, https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.92051.

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