We all know we should eat healthily. We all know obesity is bad. Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, tooth decay… the list of potential problems resulting from a poor diet is full of worryingly long, scary looking words. But have you ever thought about the psychological benefits of eating the right foods?
From increased energy levels to an improvement in mood, eating the right food plays an enormous role in our psychology.
1) Reduces symptoms of mild depression
Just like every other organ in the body, your brain reacts to what you eat. In the last few years there has been a growing list of research done into the connection between the gut and brain. Often called the ‘second brain’, our digestive system produces 90% of all the serotonin (the “happiness chemical”) we need. Having healthy gut bacteria therefore goes a long way to ensuring a positive mental attitude.
The primary culprits of symptoms of mild depression and anxiety are a lack of Iron, Calcium and Vitamin B12. Foods like spinach, broccoli, meat, dairy and eggs are great sources of these.
2) Improvement in learning ability
If you think about it in eating terms, sleeping at night is basically just a long fast. For this reason, it is important to have some complex carbohydrates and protein when you wake up. Research from the American Tufts University of Psychology has even found that when primary school aged children eat a healthy breakfast (not just a bowl of cereal!) they will have improved cognitive performance and better short-term memory. Given we’re all just big kids, the same is true for adults. Indeed, given 20% of all energy needed by the body is used by the brain, eating healthily and sustainably is vital. Going on a crash diet is a horrible idea if you want your brain to function properly.
Ideally you want to have a meal with a quality protein source, some healthy fats, and, depending on your needs, some carbs that are preferably fibrous and low GI. Fats and fibre will slow digestion, keeping you satisfied longer, and the quality protein source will provide your body with amino acids that are required for the production of dopamine - a neurotransmitter that allows us to stay focused, energised, and productive.
3) Builds self-esteem
It goes without saying that confidence stems from being content in oneself, and often this is related to happiness in how we look. Eating healthily means we can shed fat whilst maintaining muscle and do so sustainably. In addition, proper nutrition also keeps inflammation at bay, maintains energy levels and keeps blood sugar levels steady. These combine to make us feel better throughout the day.
One of the biggest problems of the modern world is that, more and more, we rely on processed foods. High in sugar and flours, we crave them as an easy calorie source, especially when we are under stress. However, it is important to overcome this urge and keep to nutrient rich foods like fruits and vegetables. Alongside these, as we mentioned last week, try to eat foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and also nuts, seeds and legumes. Our meal packages already incorporate these so that you don’t have to worry, but it certainly pays to be mindful of it should you find yourself reaching for the snack cupboard.