Connection between brain and gut
Today we know that the brain and gut are constantly communicating with each other and exchanging information. Our abdomen is lined with a highly specialised network of over 100 million nerve cells, which are similar in structure to the human brain.
The second brain
Our gastrointestinal tract is therefore not only our personal digestive system, but also our second brain! A lot of information sent from the stomach ends up in the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing our emotions. This explains why we have a ‘gut feeling’, but also why satiety leads to content<shy<ment and a rumbling stomach to a bad mood.
Gut flora affects our emotions
Based on these facts, it's not surprising that our eating habits can also have a considerable effect on our mood.
Effect proven by animal studies
Studies conducted on mice have shown that a change in the composition of their gut flora had an impact on the animals’ emotions and personalities. Reticent animals, for example, became more aggressive. To what extent these findings also apply to humans is the subject of current research. However, since our diet directly influences the bacterial composition of our gut flora, experts suspect that our moods are much more strongly affected by our gut health than previously assumed.
Does that mean that we can eat ourselves happy?
First the bad news: the perfect diet to lift our mood hasn't yet been discovered. Many factors influence the way we feel and our diet is just one of them. However, research in recent decades has provided compelling insights into the interaction between nutrition and mood.
Advantages of a diet rich in carbohydrates
Less susceptibility to impatience, tension and anger
Overall brighter mood
Diet & mental health
Basically, however, when it comes to food and mood, the general picture is similar to that of many other diet-related topics: the best thing for good spirits and happiness is a balanced and healthy diet. Scientific studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of feeling depressed.
Depression & diet
A mainly healthy diet lowers the risk of developing depression. Healthy food is also said to play a role in curing the condition, as a change of diet can greatly improve the mental state of people with psychological disorders.
People with depression should avoid consuming the following
- Processed foods
- Fried foods
- Sausage products
Happy hormones serotonin and tryptophan
Serotonin, also called the ‘happy hormone’, regulates our emotions and is important for our sleep. It’s mainly produced in the gut, but also in the nerve cells of the brain. Serotonin has a calming effect and can suppress feelings like fear and anger. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the serotonin contained in food has no effect on our mood because it’s unable to pass our blood-brain barrier – unlike the hormone’s precursor, the amino acid tryptophan. It’s from this amino acid that serotonin is formed in the brain.
Tryptophan alone isn't enough
However, the amount of tryptophan required to have a lasting effect on a person’s mood seems unrealistic. Nevertheless, they’re the right foods to be included in the mood food category. In addition to their high tryptophan content, they also contain other important nutrients that benefit mental and physical health.
Magnesium and vitamins
Bananas, for example, contain magnesium and vitamin B6. These nutrients help to combat stress, as magnesium relaxes the muscles and vitamin B6 calms the nerves. Stress doesn't simply prevent good moods, it can also lead to depression.
A good mood from eating healthy ingredients and savouring food
It's not only good ingredients that improve mental health: a diet that is healthy, varied and diverse and includes the right macronutrients, vitamins and minerals is important for both our mood and our overall well-being. However, nothing makes us happier than consciously savouring something tasty.
The emotions and positive feelings that can be triggered just by the smell of our favourite dish are invaluable and immediately improve our mental state. Enjoying unhealthy – but delicious – food can also have a positive impact on our mood in the short-term.