The journey from mouth to mind: How food plays a role in your mental health
The mind-gut connection is real, which means the food you eat and the eating habits you adopt can greatly affect your mental health.
Whether you’re eating too much processed sugar and experiencing extreme sugar crashes throughout the day, or you’re not eating enough and feeling lethargic, your eating habits can affect your mind.
If you’re feeling down or anxious, learning more about your body’s response to certain foods and substituting simple food items throughout the day can help you get back on track.
Finding sugar substitutes
Sugar plays a huge role in your mental health because it can affect your mood greatly. The more added sugar in your diet, the bigger your mood swings get. If you think of little kids after they eat a bunch of sugar and experience a crash, they often end up cranky and have an upset stomach.
The same happens to you in adulthood, but it may look different. You may not throw a tantrum and scream into your pillow, but you will experience the sugar crash causing you to feel lethargic and irritable.
First, try folate
You can substitute these processed sugars with foods high in folate and fiber. Folate regulates the levels of tetrahydrobiopterin, which is an important factor in the formation of dopamine and serotonin (we will get to how these neurotransmitters work in tandem with your mental health later on in this article). Foods high in folate include:
- Legumes like kidney beans, lentils and peas
- Veggies like asparagus, leafy greens and beets
Do you know what else contains folate? The Vitapod Energy+ pod. In this Orange Zest–flavored pod, there is 0g of sugar, no artificial sweeteners and eight vitamins and minerals including folate, calcium, and magnesium. It has 100mcg of folic acid (folate) which is 40 percent of your daily value, so if you’re lacking in this area, this pod is a great source for you.
Don’t forget about fiber
Foods high in fiber help give your body the sugar it needs. Yet, your body takes longer to break down foods high in fiber and, therefore, leading to longer, sustained energy levels. Foods high in fiber include:
- Fruits like pears, strawberries, bananas and apples
- Veggies like avocados, carrots and Brussels sprouts
- Legumes like chickpeas, split peas and lentils
Sending the right signals with dopamine and serotonin
Eating the right foods can help your body produce dopamine and serotonin, and though studies are still being done today, some scientists have found that a diet rich in whole foods can aid in helping depression and anxiety. That’s partly because of the neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine is that feeling of satisfaction that you get after a good workout or after you’ve achieved a goal of yours.
Dopamine is linked to movement, attention, reward, and motivation, so when levels are low, it can be hard to feel motivated and can take a toll on your work life. You can boost your dopamine levels by eating foods high in protein since enzymes need the amino acids found in protein in order to turn some of those amino acids into dopamine.
Serotonin helps stabilize your emotions by making you feel happier, less anxious, and more focused. Decreased levels of serotonin can make you feel depressed and can affect your sleep as well as your libido.
Serotonin is mostly found in your digestive system, which is why what you eat is so important. Eating certain foods like salmon, nuts, and pineapple can help increase the production of serotonin, while substances like diet sodas, caffeine, and artificial sugars can lower levels of this neurotransmitter.
Raising a glass can boost your mood
Another key factor that food brings to your mental health is community. When you sit down and have a meal with someone, it opens up a space for conversation and openness. Plus, the more you talk, the more time you spend enjoying each bite of the meal instead of finishing a whole meal in under 10 minutes. Also, literally sitting upright in a chair can help with digestion.
If you live alone, try to incorporate at least one meal a week where you invite someone over or you take someone out to dinner that you love and trust, so you can spend quality time with them while enjoying a tasty meal.
If you live with roommates or your significant other, dedicate one night out of the week where you cook a meal together and then enjoy that meal at a dinner table without any screens or distractions. It’s amazing what one good meal can do to your mental health.
Prep it and forget it
Meal prepping can help you prepare food that not only tastes good, but is good for you. This can make eating healthier food easier because you don’t have to think about your meals for the rest of the week.
So, when Wednesday rolls around and you don’t want to make lunch, you can reach for the chicken and rice bowl you prepped instead of ordering off of a food delivery app. Now, you’re saving money while you work on your mental health!
And if you’re feeling a bad case of the Mondays on Monday or at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, you can pop in a Vitapod Energy+ pod or even the Ice Tea+ pod to give you a boost of energy while supplying your body with the nutrients it’s craving.
Taking care of yourself and your mental health can start with your next meal. What will you be eating?