In this introduction to happy eating, I will go over the 4 happy hormones, happy nutrients that your body needs and also foods that are linked to bring down your mood.
An Introduction to Happy Eating
Today I’m going to talk about what happy eating is all about.
I’ve tried a million diets from paleo, to Atkins, to bulletproof, to no sugar, to the alkaline diet. The problem was that I could never keep it up long term. I needed something that I could follow but also didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of all of the foods that I love. This guide to happy eating therefore is not so much a diet but a practice that will slowly improve your health and happiness.
In this guide I will show you how to bring in happy nutrients that have been shown to increase the four happy hormones in our body. The combination of these hormones is what gives us those happy feelings and what will provide the motivation to stay on the happiness track.
What is happy eating exactly?
Swapping out ingredients for ones with a higher nutritional value.
Replacing ingredients that we eat everyday with happy nutrients. Which are just ingredients that have a higher nutritional value. Not only do they have a higher nutritional value, but they also evoke those happy hormones we mentioned earlier.
Happy Examples (processed sugar vs. cane sugar):
For example, you may be a soda or diet soda drinker. I would say eventually yes you would want to cut this completely from your diet. But instead of being so harsh about it, why don’t you cut back on the amount you have and save them for situations where you are treating yourself and it will be something to look forward to. Also, I would suggest replacing your soda with one that uses cane sugar instead of either processed sugar or one of the diet sugars.
Diet and processed (table) sugar hold no nutritional value. However, sugar cane contains trace amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, just to name a few (1). On the flip side, diet and processed sugar have had links to depression and anxiety. If your goal is to lead a happier lifestyle, this might be a great place to start.
Dear Pasta and reading ingredient labels:
Another example would be pasta. It is a comfort food (serotonin) and that definitely fits in line with one of the four happy hormones. But not all pasta noodles from the store are made the same. Try to look at ingredients you recognize or use a healthier alternative like edamame noodles (explore cuisine) or chickpea noodles (Banza). But the main lesson here is to start becoming more familiar with looking at the ingredients on labels.
When eating happy, nutritional value can be a little tricky. Many of the noodles that we normally buy at the grocery store usually come enriched (2), meaning it’s been stripped of most of its nutritional value and vitamins are synthetically added in like iron or vitamin B. If you replaced this with whole wheat pasta, you get more fiber, manganese and selenium. Also, carbs eventually add sugar to your blood stream, and this would be less of the case with whole wheat pasta. Bottom line: don’t give up your beloved pasta but do look at what is going into your body and find small ways to increase the nutritional content. This will increase your overall health and lead to a longer happier life.
Happy Hormones (neurotransmitters):
Now that you understand the concept of happy eating, it’s time for me to explain the 4 happy hormones (3).
- Dopamine – The “feel-good” hormone. This hormone is an important part of your brains reward system and is associated with learning, memory and pleasure. Foods high in protein may increase dopamine levels (4).
- Serotonin – The regulator hormone. This hormone helps with sleep, appetite, digestion, learning and memory. Salmon, eggs and poultry are all foods that have the ability to increase serotonin levels (5).
- Oxytocin – The love hormone. This is an important hormone for strong parent-child bonding, stimulating empathy, relationship building and trust. One of the ways to increase levels of oxytocin is by physical affection. Cuddles are my favorite oxytocin booster! Foods that contain vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium and dietary fats can also be great providers of oxytocin (6).
- Endorphins – Natures pain reliever. This helps protect your body against stress or discomfort. You can increase endorphins by eating the right foods i.e. chocolate, working out or sexy time (7).
Increase Happy Nutrients:
Now that you understand how the neurotransmitters (hormones) play a role on your way to happiness. Let’s understand what nutrients are needed to support those hormones.
While there are many vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that come into play. I first wanted to start with the most important nutrients to aid in happiness. These 12 nutrients will be broken down each month throughout the year starting with vitamin D in January.
- -Vitamin D
- -Vitamin B12
- -Vitamin A
- -Vitamin E
Over the course of the year, we will be taking a deep dive into each of these nutrients, why they are important for happiness and how to incorporate them into everyday life.
Decrease items linked to Depression and Anxiety:
Sugar and refined carbs, industrial fats, grain fed beef and non-organic vegetables have all been linked to feeling blue, anxiety, brain shrinkage, and depression (8). Below is a list of foods that would result in a negative or mood killer if taken consistently over time or if taken in excess over time.
- -Fruit Juices
- -Regular Soda
- -Diet Soda
- -White Toast
- -Packaged dressing
- -Energy Drinks
- -Excess Alcohol
- -Canned Frosting
- -Packaged Soy sauce
- -Processed foods
In moderation, many of these items are fine, but in excess and consumed long term these can cause many issues with regard to anxiety and depression (9). Many times, there are healthier alternatives like making these at home with healthier and fresher ingredients. Other alternatives include organic or farm raised.
What to expect:
Each month we will take a deep dive into each nutrient. Explain why it is important to the body and how it will help with your happiness. Then we will show you various ways to incorporate it into your daily life, as well as provide recipes for you to make at home. We encourage you to continue adding these nutrients over the year, the weekly challenge is simply to learn and get us started on the right track. Also, sometimes nutrients take time to accumulate in the body and you may not see results immediately. Alas, that’s what the other weeks are for (physical, mental, spiritual).
Food effects mood and taking out those ingredients that have been linked to depression and anxiety paired with eating foods that increase mood and leave you feeling happier due to higher nutritional values, is our aim and goal. We will occasionally want that chocolate cake, or extra glass of wine and that’s ok (actually, those things sound amazing together!). But now you can forgive yourself and start anew with your next meal.
Now to help you get started, I’ve attached a pdf to track your meals, challenges and moods. In order to measure our success, we need to document our progress. These pdfs will help with that. However, a sheet of blank paper can be equally as effective.
Leave a comment:
Now you should have a good understanding of what to expect starting January 3rd. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.
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In case you missed the Newsletter on the Happiness Reset Challenge, you can read all about it here.
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