We’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat.” Of course you won’t literally turn into a chicken nugget if you like some fast-food poultry, but your eating habits could be impacting you in more ways than you know.
Your food doesn’t just impact you physically (although, of course, it does that too); it also impacts your mind and mentality.
Let’s dive into how it works and how you can make it work for you!
Food is fuel for your body. When you eat, your body breaks down that food into energy. When your stomach digests food, it takes the carbohydrates and turns them into glucose, which creates energy.
There’s more than that, though:
- Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber.
- Whole grains do a lot of heavy lifting, including regulating blood sugar, aiding digestion, removing toxins, and more.
- Protein provides amino acids, builds muscle, and it helps you feel full.
- Fats and oils, although often vilified, do important work like promoting gut health and facilitating immune system function.
These are the basics that you’ll learn in an average health class. Now, how do you break it down beyond “Food and Body”?
Food and Mind
Have you noticed that sometimes you feel better after a certain meal? Part of that is certainly tied to the fact that you will be in a better mood when you’re healthy and energized, but there’s still more than just that!
Did you know that 90% of your body’s serotonin receptors are in the stomach?
Foods are more than building blocks for your muscles and immune system: certain foods contain nutrients that promote chemical reactions in your brain, directly impacting your mood. Let’s do a crash course, shall we?
- Complex carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, beans and quinoa) promote serotonin, the feel-good chemical in your brain that acts as a mood stabilizer and plays a part in all key body functions.
- Proteins (from meat, beans, eggs, etc.) have been shown to create higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which regulate pleasure, motivation, and stress-management.
- Fruits and vegetables have been scientifically proven to improve mood. People who regularly eat these vitamin-packed powerhouses report they are happier.
- Oils and fats from whole foods can keep blood sugar stable, leading to better mood and less anxiety.
Balancing these food groups can keep your body and your mind flourishing. Doctors recommend a balanced diet, focusing on whole foods, complex carbohydrates and nutrient-rich greens, for both physical and mental health.
Food for Joy
Everything’s okay in moderation, right?
Some foods make you feel worse physically when they have little nutritional value (like refined-sugar-based snacks), even if they give you a short hit of serotonin. However, cutting these foods out entirely can be difficult.
With moderation while maintaining a healthy diet, it’s okay to have a treat now and then. This can keep you motivated and feeling good about your choices.
No food is bad - there are just foods that do different things for your body and being.
Keep it Balanced
It can be a lot to keep in your head, tracking all your food and the nutrients you need to feel good. After putting in some work, it can feel intuitive (and in a pinch, there are good rules of thumb like eating the rainbow), but it’s hard to get started if you’re brand new to focusing on diet.
To keep yourself motivated, you can find and follow a couple chefs you love and who know how to focus on whole foods and healthy meals. Trying to incorporate a new meal into your routine once a week is a good start.
You can also try out an app to keep track of your diet and your meals, keeping an eye on which nutrients you should focus on next.
There are some “fad diets” that have been proven good for you (like the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to decrease depression), but in the end, you should listen to your body and focus on eating things that make you feel nourished and healthy.
Eating is crucial to keep you going, but it should also be fun, not a chore. Once you get in the habit of eating whole foods that fuel your body, it’ll be a walk in the park.