“In the Pursuit of Happiness”

While it is easy to see how what we eat has a direct influence on our bodies, we tend to forget about the importance of the mind-body connection. When it comes to our nutritional choices, everything just becomes a little foggier – we are so focused on trying to find the right kind of food with the lowest calories or fat percentage, we tend to overlook a little thing called “serotonin”. The word may usually be associated with our brains, as it is an important neurotransmitter, but what we are commonly unaware of is that not only has it been linked to food long before it became a mood hormone, but it is key to our mental and physical well-being.

Think about it; the brain takes care of thoughts and movements and controls our breathing and heartbeat even while we are asleep. The brain needs a constant supply of fuel which comes from the food we eat, which in fact, makes all the difference. What we eat affects the structure and function of our brains, and eventually, our moods.

Seemingly, about 90 percent of serotonin is actually specialized in our guts. Our guts are lined with millions of neurons which means that the digestive system is not only important for the breaking down of food, but also acts as a guide for our moods and emotions.

Curiously, the more important thing to pay attention to is something called “tryptophan”, an amino-acid which synthesizes serotonin. So if we are to eat foods rich in serotonin that would be saying it wrong – we have to look out for tryptophan rich food. What foods are high in tryptophan we may ask? Carbohydrates. This oddly enough explains our sudden drop in mood two weeks into our low-carb diets. When we are feeling low, we usually need higher levels of serotonin to feel better, and craving for junk food is possibly our way of coping with it.

However, it is not just tryptophan that is important in keeping the balance between our mind and body. Thiamine, a vitamin B complex also has a heavy impact. Introducing this component into our dietary regimes is guaranteed to significantly boost moods and overall health.

Leaving (most of) the science behind, let us focus on some tryptophan and thiamine rich foods that we can incorporate into our everyday diets. It is not that difficult as it seems because we can get most of it from local grocery stores.

Eating two portions of fish per week, or salmon which is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, should do the trick for most people. Other meats such as chicken and turkey are also delicious choices. If we are looking for something more vegan, we can go for soy products, spinach and nuts. Opt for poached eggs with spinach on the side (Seagull Café has a very good Eggs Benedict with spinach and mushroom) or try sprinkling different types of nuts on salads instead of just snacking on them. Find some seeded bread (check out Flourless by Fenny on Instagram) or grab a bowl of granola with nuts (flip over to our Chosen Ones section) to start the morning right. Some foods often fortified with thiamine are rice, pasta, bread, cereals, oats and flour. Oranges, seeds, legumes and peas are also a great addition to our kitchens.

What we also have to keep in mind is that nutrient deficiencies can also cause harmful eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Such diseases are often a cause of low levels of serotonin. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to counter this. However, there is research done to back that adding tryptophan and thiamine rich foods to diets can have a desired effect.

Moreover, if a simple yet effective solution is what we need to satisfy our cravings, this is a shopping list you need:

  • Chocolate and coffee: Just the thought of cocoa and caffeine makes most of us happy. For that increased boost of energy and mood, chocolate Cookie and a cuppa good ol’ coffee might do the trick (the trick is not going beyond 2 or 3 cups).
  • Blueberries: Research has shown that it reduces the symptoms of anxiety in depression in mice. Hey, it applies to us too. No?
  • Mangoes: Besides being one of the most beautiful colored fruits, it packs a bunch of nutrition especially vitamins.
  • Bananas: Is there an explanation needed for this? Despite their sweetness, they are also considered a low-glycemic food which also helps with proper functioning of our bodies.

The bottom line is that yes, the food that goes into our waistlines are what is most visible but what we eat also has a direct effect on our brains and mood. By eating plenty of tryptophan and thiamine rich foods, we can help our bodies in effectively increasing serotonin to keep us healthy and happy.

Words by Nashwa