Happiness is just like a pack of giant-sized McVities Shortbread; it is best enjoyed when shared with others. It’s a new year and you’ll wish every other person “Happy New Year!” with a wide grin and hearty cheer. However, you can’t share what you don’t have, can you? So the real question is: Are you truly happy? Is your cheerfulness forced, or is it real?
Happiness is eating what you love; there is real joy in finding relish in a well-balanced diet or a sumptuous meal. Still, some foods can make you happy, not just because they are delicious but because of the direct effect that they have on the brain or on your mood. By either increasing the levels of serotonin or endorphins, certain foods are the real mood lifters. Check these out:
Foods rich in magnesium: Every cell in your body needs magnesium to function and brain cells are no exception. Magnesium helps to regulate neurotransmitters that pass on messages throughout the central nervous system; so it plays a vital role in brain function and mood. Low magnesium levels are linked to an increased risk of depression. Foods rich in magnesium include dark chocolate, fatty fish, avocado, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables and bananas
Foods rich in antioxidants: Vitamin C, resveratrol, anthocyanins and lycopene are examples of some powerful antioxidants. Some antioxidants like anthocyanins have neuroprotective effects. Insufficient antioxidants in the body can lead to fatigue, depression, low motivation, feelings of being unwell and a general feeling of “being in the dumps”. Citrus fruits, apricots, red bell peppers, mangoes, strawberries, kale, red wine, blue potatoes and cherry tomatoes are rich sources of antioxidants. Generally, higher concentrations of antioxidants in the body have been found to directly improve health and mood.
Foods rich in folic acid: Folic acid (Vitamin B-9) has been proven to fight depression and reduce mental fatigue. It also stabilises emotional and mental health. Foods like beets, bananas, spinach, avocado, cabbage and other green leafy vegetables, kidney beans, beans and other legumes, eggs, beef liver, and citrus fruits are rich in folate.
Foods rich in Vitamin D: Vitamin D has immense anti-depressant qualities and can boost mood. Its antidepressant quality is due to its role in regulating the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood and learning. Maintaining the right amount of serotonin helps ward off depression and anxiety. According to research, the use of Vitamin D3 in patients with depression could have antidepressant effects and even reduce the risk of recurrence. Edible mushrooms, beef, chicken livers, egg yolks and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are rich in Vitamin D.
Foods rich in Vitamin B-6: Vitamin B-6 is also essential for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin (serotonin is the feel-good neurotransmitter). Green leafy vegetables, poultry and beef are all rich sources
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are proven to improve mood. They have been found to have antidepressant effects in patients with depressive disorder. Other studies have found omega-3 fatty acids promising as natural treatments for mood disorders. Since they play an important role in cell manufacturing, Omega-3 fatty acids also make you look happy by making your hair and skin glow. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel as well as eggs, walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate has the amazing ability to raise endorphin levels. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced in the nervous system that reduce pain and promote pleasure. Endorphins improve moods, reduce stress, depression and anxiety, as well as boost self-esteem. Dark chocolates also reduce the stress hormone, cortisol.
Bananas: Bananas contain tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid. This means that it cannot be produced in the body but must be obtained from the diet. Tryptophan is necessary for the production of serotonin. Actually, tryptophan is used to produce niacin (Vitamin B-3) which is essential in the production of serotonin. Bananas are also rich in folic acid.
Foods rich in zinc: Eggs, oysters, beans, chicken, meat and fish are rich sources of zinc. According to research, low levels of zinc cause severe anxiety. More studies have shown strong positive associations between zinc deficiency and the risk of depression as well as an inverse association between zinc supplementation and depressive symptoms.
Foods that have probiotics: Probiotics are bacteria that live in the intestines. They aid digestion, boost immunity and clean the gut. No wonder they are called good bacteria. They are said to have a calming effect on the body and help with aggression, while contributing to the health of the gut-brain axis. Yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt) contains probiotics.
On a final note, to enjoy the mood-lifting benefits of these foods, they should be consumed regularly, and not one-off or rarely. Regularly eating healthy foods gives you a healthy and happy mind.
By Pharm. (Dr) Onyinye Chiekwe