foods-ms-webThe human body is one big chemistry experiment. There are many studies that look at how substances affect the human body in general and the brain in particular. Research is underway that seeks to find the ideal match between substances, like food, beverage or medication, and pain relief as well as other health issues. Diabetes, heart disease and celiac sprue are conditions for which treatment focuses on diet. It makes one wonder how often diet management may be the key to managing a health condition?

There is plenty of advice floating around about food and moods. For example, chocolate is a popular happy food and has been studied. Many people tend to comment that their mood is brightened with a snack of chocolate. Research identifies a variety of reasons which are both chemical and emotional. The chemicals in chocolate act on the brain to release dopamine or boost endorphins – which is science-speak for the release of natural “feel good” chemicals in our bodies. Culturally, chocolate is often associated with positive emotions and memories like a childhood special occasion treat or a valentine from a special someone.

Around the world, chamomile tea is one of the most recommended bedtime remedies to promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep. Other widely promoted food remedies include:

  • Ginger to settle a tummy ache or decreasing inflammation,
  • Berries to reduce stress,
  • Nuts to promote a healthy brain,
  • Asparagus (high in folate) for mood stabilization,
  • Leafy greens to enhance boost energy,
  • Citrus or garlic to boost the immune system,
  • Oatmeal to boost serotonin,
  • Banana to boost blood sugar and increase serotonin,
  • Turkey to treat insomnia,
  • Yogurt for constipation/gas,
  • Fish for banishing a bad mood, and
  • Water to increase energy plus lower stress.

In December 2014, neurobiologists at Oxford University reignited an interesting discussion when it was publicized that there is preliminary evidence connecting gut bacteria with mental health. Specifically, they have found that increasing the population of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract through the use of “prebiotic” supplements has had an anti-anxiety effect on test subjects. This reinforces the findings of a UCLA study publicized in 2013 that gut bacteria levels affect brain function. So how does this come into play in daily life? The first step is to understand the difference between PRObiotics and PREbiotics:

Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ in the GI tract. Many people are ingesting probiotics (live bacteria cultures) in a regular diet.  Foods in this category are usually fermented or cultured, like sauerkraut, yogurt and cheese to name a few.  Some people choose to take probiotic supplements.

Prebiotics are the foods we eat that the good bacteria in the GI tract (aka probiotics) feeds on to survive, thrive and multiply. Again, many people are getting prebiotics through a regular healthy diet of non digestible carbohydrates like grains, legumes, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onion and radish.

Modern science is catching up with traditional food remedies as the connection between the brain and tummy is proven. One thing all of the research studies agree on is that choosing certain foods will lead to a more positive state of mind.

When looking at the foods discussed above, lots of indulgent choices come to mind that can begin the adventure of eating happy foods. Adding yogurt, berry, granola parfait for breakfast, lunch or as an after dinner dessert come to mind. Another could be enjoying grilled asparagus and salmon for lunch or dinner. There are so many more.

If you are a regular reader of the TPC blogs, you may be familiar with the Comfort Cookin’ series by Janice Reynolds. If not, get ready for your mouth to water. I invite all of you to interact with myself and others on the topic of Happy Foods by commenting on this article and joining the discussion under the Wellness Issue: Favorite Recipes section found in the discussion forums on the TPC website. Signing up to participate in the discussion forums and other features of our online community is easy and free. Register Today!

Resources:

Carpenter, S., That gut feeling, American Psychological Association, September 2012, Vol 43, No. 8, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling.aspx, accessed February 2, 2015.

Champeau, R., Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows, UCLA Newroom, May 28, 2013, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617, accessed February 2, 2015.

Deans, E., Do Probiotics Help Anxiety?, Psychology Today, June 17, 2012, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201206/do-probiotics-help-anxiety, accessed February 2, 2015.

Firpo-Cappiello, R., Banish the occasional headache or upset stomach with remedies straight from your kitchen, Prevention, http://www.prevention.com/food/food-remedies/16-simple-healing-foods?s=1, accessed February 2, 2015.

Kirschner, C., What are prebiotics and do we need them?, Mother Nature Network, February 15, 2013, http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/questions/what-are-prebiotics-and-do-we-need-them, accessed February 2, 2015.

Naish, J., Will taking a probiotic pill make you feel less anxious?, Daily Mail.com, 13 January 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2538821/As-scientists-suggest-bacteria-guts-affect-brains-mood-Will-taking-probiotic-pill-make-feel-anxious.html, accessed February 2, 2015.

Nefer, B., Do Probiotics Help With Anxiety?, February 18, 2014, Livestrong.com, http://www.livestrong.com/article/459975-do-probiotics-help-with-anxiety/, accessed February 2, 2015.

Reinagel, M., What are Prebiotics?, QuickandDirtyTips.com, July 10, 2012, http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/what-are-prebiotics, accessed February 2, 2015.

Rettner, R., Gut Feeling? Probiotics May Ease Anxiety and Depression, LiveScience.com, December 24, 2014, http://www.livescience.com/49248-gut-bacteria-mental-health.html, accessed February 2, 2015.

What is Depression?, National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml, accessed February 2, 2015.

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