The link between intestine and brain It’s a fact. What we eat decisively influences our mood and that famous saying of our grandmothers, ‘my stomach shrinks’, is much more than a metaphor because the gastrointestinal system is sensitive to emotions. In fact, many of the chemicals associated with brain and to our well-being – such as Seratonin, the so-called happiness hormone, are produced in the intestine.
The question has to do with the Microbiome, that ‘word’ increasingly present in our vocabulary that reminds us that much of what we are we owe to the bacteria. In the gastrointestinal tract there are good and bad, and of the proportion Between them it depends, for example, that we are able to face stress and stress with more or less success. sadness.
Those with a lower level of healthy gut bacteria are more likely to suffer from anxiety and various depressive disorders, says a study published in the journal Nature Microbiology, which directly links mental health with the microbiome. In this sense, other studies also point out, such as the one published by the European Journal of Nutrition, which ensures that those who consume a diet rich in whole grains, nuts and foods with omega-3 are less likely to show symptoms of depression for a period of 11 years.
Foods that provide pleasure
The truth is that the relationship between our mood and food is more than close. “Poor management of emotions often leads to a binge of chocolate, pizza, puppies or hamburger. You have fought with your partner, straws and tapas with friends; you have been pressured at work, pizza and chocolate ice cream when you get home; You feel sad, you go down to the candy store for jelly beans and salty snacks … Eat junk food because it provides us with a Pleasure immediate,” says nutritional coach Sandra Tirado, a specialist in changing habits, eating behaviors and complexes.
But there are other very healthy foods that also exert that effect of junk food. And they are the ones who favor the aforementioned Seratonin, “the hormone that is related to a good mood and a positive attitude,” explains Tirado. A substance that also helps “improve the quality of our sleep and provides us with tranquillity“.
This hormone is synthesized through an amino acid, tryptophan, present in many foods. “The most logical thing would be to think, ‘If I eat a lot of tryptophan-rich food, I’ll be happier.’ Unfortunately, the answer is no. For our brain to absorb this amino acid and transform it into serotonin we must take it together with carbohydrates“, he says. Sandra Tirado.
And this is where a food very present in our gastronomy and very little valued comes into play: the bread. In its fair measure, taking it of quality and without associating it with fats, “it is very healthy and provides that 40% of carbohydrates necessary to maintain a healthy diet based on the nutritional pyramid, “explains the nutritionist Terica Uriol, Author of the famous sandwich diet with which she herself has managed to stay at a healthy weight for more than 20 years.
Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you how you’re going to feel
In addition to carbohydrates, foods that help us strengthen the nervous system central and having an effect sedative are especially those that include B vitamins and minerals such as “potassium, magnesium and calcium, essential to stimulate the reaction to the hormones that the body secretes in response to the stress“, explains health psychologist Noelia Pérez, an expert in psychological techniques for stress control, Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness.
However, to develop a menu that gives us peace of mind and makes us happierIt is necessary to resort to the vitamins and fatty acids Omega 3. We need to follow “a diet rich in fruits and vegetables – at least 4 daily pieces of the first and two servings of the second – and take fish at least twice a week, especially the blue, which helps improve mood and cope with routine, “adds Dr. María José Crispín, nutritionist of Menorca Clinic.
And control as much as possible the consumption of foods that overactivate the nervous system. I mean stimulants such as coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, guarana and ginseng extracts and alcohol. On average, it is recommended not to take more than 100 milligrams a day of caffeine, which is equivalent to a cup of coffee or two cola drinks.
What does happiness taste like?
Especially Vegetables, as Dr. Crispín explains and reinforce the data of a recent survey of the Florette brand. According to the report they have just prepared, almost all respondents (95%) find improvements to Emotional level when you follow a diet that contains fresh fruits and vegetables. Among them, they say they are calmer (36%), concentrate and face daily tasks with more desire (28%) and see their levels of anxiety (28%).
No wonder if we think that the vitamin C -Included in foods such as arugula, carrots or lamb’s lettuce, as well as in many fruits- it favors the production of serotonin. And other vegetables, such as spinach, contain GABA, a component that controls the central nervous system and helps reduce anxiety and stress, and even to rest better.
The Happiness Diet
Therefore, what foods help us improve our mood? To answer this question the doctor Maria Jose Crispin has drawn up a list of products that should not be missing from our shopping list if we want to prevent sadness and decrease the stress.
- Oat. Rich in tryptophan, it causes a feeling of well-being and takes care of the nervous system. It also provides slow-absorbing carbohydrates that are associated with a better mood of lasting effect because they maintain blood glucose levels.
- Citrus. “Vitamin C is critical for neurotransmitters, boosts the immune system and slows down levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Dr. Crispin. Also kiwi, red and green peppers, broccoli and tomato. “Citrus fruits in general are a source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They improve dopamine and serotonin levels and taking them on an empty stomach helps against stress, fatigue and tiredness.”
- Green leafy vegetables. They are rich in folic acid, essential to keep calm. “Several studies link low folic acid levels to depression,” she adds.
- Nuts. Especially walnuts, “which contain tryptophan that helps the brain produce more serotonin. Cashews – for their contribution in magnesium, known as the anti-stress mineral – also help reduce fatigue and depression and increase physical performance.”
- Kefir and yogurt. Probiotics provide beneficial bacteria that regulate the intestinal flora. “It is proven that if it is unbalanced, the risk of depression increases. In addition, they help maintain an adequate microbiota.”
- Vegetables. They are a great source of slow-absorbing carbohydrates that, like oatmeal, help recover and maintain energy. “And they provide B vitamins related to the proper functioning of the nervous system.”
- Purple fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, eggplants, blackberries, radishes, cherries… They contain anthocyanins, “substances with antioxidant action at the brain level that have been shown to be useful in the fight against stress,” says Dr. Crispín.
- Plantain. It is rich in tryptophan, a key amino acid for creating serotonin.
- Maca. It contains high doses of amino acids and minerals -copper, magnesium, iron and phosphorus-, so which is good against fatigue and asthenia, “and increases serotonin levels, relieving symptoms of mild depression,” he says.
- Chamomile. Supported by the results of a study from the University of Pennsylvania that demonstrated its effectiveness in treating anxiety disorder. “After eight weeks of treatment, patients saw their symptoms significantly reduced. Valerian, orange flower or lemon verbena are also useful,” adds Crispín.
- Blue fish. It is rich in omega 3, essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. “There are studies that link low levels of this fatty acid with depression,” says the doctor.
- Carbohydrates. They help assimilate tryptophan and convert it into seratonin. Better those of slow absorption, that is, those obtained from legumes and whole grains, “because they maintain more stable levels of glycemia and avoid insulin spikes that cause euphoria, followed after discontent,” adds Crispín.
- Dark chocolate or pure cocoa. “Many studies have shown its benefits for mood, improves the production of hormones that reduce stress, stimulates the central nervous system and produces a sense of well-being,” explains the doctor. It must have a high percentage of cocoa, 70% or higher. “Cocoa, pure and better with vegetable drinks than with milk. 1-2 ounces of chocolate or 1-2 tablespoons of cocoa a day are enough,” he advises.
- Water. Good for everything, it is also good for keeping us calm and away from stress: “A slight dehydration can mean a major change in mood,” explains Crispín. Recommended, two liters a day.
- Bird and red meat. Meats in general are a source of vitamin B12, and “there are multiple studies that link vitamin B12 deficiency with depression. Vegans should take a supplement,” he recommends.
- Coffee. “In small doses, caffeine has psychostimulant effects and increases the level of physical and mental activity, intensifying the feeling of well-being. A coffee in the morning helps boost energy and spirits. What is contraindicated is the abuse of caffeine or similar (teas, cola, cocoa), because it is related to anxiety crises, insomnia and tachycardia, “concludes Dr. Crispín.