How does eating affect your mood?
The digestive system is in fashion. Never before has society been so concerned with controlling what we eat. Although it is true that there are many people who add care of their diet to “being in”, the good thing that all trends have is that they make visible a part of our body which we had traditionally severely mistreated in the Western world.
In recent years, medicine focused on the digestive system has made a U-turn. From being studied from a highly mechanical perspective, it is now studied in a much more integrating manner. What have we discovered? The intestine is our health centre, acts as a second brain and, if given the care it deserves, can change our mood from head to toes, and therefore our overall well-being.
"We must therefore avoid food that prevents the correct production of serotonin, such as those which produce inflammation or nutritional shortcomings"
The intestine, our second brain
If we analyse our digestive tube in depth, we discover that “just below where the food we eat circulates, we have two neuronal networks that form the well-known enteral nervous system or second brain” explains Xevi Verdaguer, psychoneuroimmunologist (PNI) and author of Transforma tu Salud [Transform your Health ] (Ed. Grijalbo). Eating is one of the aspects that can modify the intestine’s production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and affect our mood and behaviour. In this sense, we have drawn up a shopping list with the fundamental nutrients to give us this lift. Take note:
Fill your basket with …
- Bluefish: like salmon and tuna. These are particularly good for their content in vitamin D, which plays a fundamental role in reducing the seasonal affective disorders (the typical sadness and “droop” in the autumn and winter).
- Black chocolate: an excellent source of tryptophan, which is an amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin. Its effect is to enhance joy and a positive mood. Bitter chocolate is also rich in phenyl ethylamine, a compound called "drug of love" because it creates a similar sensation to that of being in love.
- Kefir and yoghurt: these are rich in probiotics. In a recent scientific review published in Annals of General Psychiatry it is concluded that probiotics relieve symptoms of depression such as anxiety and mood shifts.
- Greens: such as spinach or the famous kale, which is now so much in fashion. They are very rich in folate, a group B vitamin that has been associated with a lower risk of depression.
- Forest fruit: Verdaguer particularly recommends “wild blueberries” with an excellent antioxidant provision. The forest fruit along with broccoli, cabbage and beetroot (…) improve the bacterial diversity of the intestine and reduce inflammation; both qualities are essential for a good mood. Several studies have shown that forest fruit improve the symptoms of dysphoria, depression and attenuate stress.
- Walnuts: very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. These have a soothing effect, help concentration and give a “stabilising” power to one’s mood. In addition to walnuts, you will find considerable amounts of omegas in bluefish, linseed and olive oil.
- Garden vegetables: specifically onion, leek, garlic, carrot, beans, artichoke and beetroot, all garden delights rich in soluble fibre and resistant starch, properties which give them prebiotic characteristics. Several studies have shown the anxiolytic properties of prebiotics
It is as important to fill your shopping basket with natural joy enhancers as it is to avoid the ingredients that harm one’s emotional energy. We must therefore avoid food that prevents the correct production of serotonin, such as those which produce inflammation or nutritional shortcomings of vitamins or minerals (B2, B6, B9, B12, Mg, Zn, Fe) like alcohol, refined sugars, sweeteners and processed food.
People sensitive to gluten (without having to be coeliac or allergic to it) should avoid wheat, as it will harm their energy levels and affect their mood. Xevi Verdaguer therefore strongly recommends “bringing in gluten free cereals as they can change your lives (…) Saracen wheat and quinoa are my favourites”.