Food is always good for the soul. But anyone who wants to strengthen their mind on a sustained basis needs the right nutrients. What foods can make you happy? And how does eating influence our emotions?
Can you eat yourself happy? Absolutely! Food triggers positive feelings in us. Even the smell or sight of strawberries, freshly baked bread or perhaps a piece of cake can put a smile on our face. And the memories associated with a specific type of food – like raclette after a day on the slopes or a Sunday roast from our childhood – can fill us with joy, too.
But it’s vitamins and minerals that form the basis for our well-being. The body needs these nutrients to create happiness hormones. The most well-known of these messenger substances are serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. They have a drug-like effect on our mind and, in turn, on our emotions, too.
Not all the nutrients that are responsible for generating happiness hormones can be produced by our body alone. These have to be supplemented in the body through food – and in sufficient quantity. The only way to achieve this is by eating a varied and balanced diet.
Many happiness hormones are released in the brain’s nerve cells first. But that’s not the only place: roughly 95 per cent of serotonin is generated in the gut. As a result, the gut-brain connection and the composition of our intestinal flora also play an important role in keeping us emotionally balanced.
For our mental equilibrium, we need specific nutrients like almost all B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, calcium, iodine, chromium, potassium, selenium and the amino acid tryptophan. These foods are particularly abundant in specific nutrients:
You can find numerous recipes and diet tips in the free app – take the Soul & Food program for instance, which offers simple ways of boosting your well-being through your diet.
Diet and emotions are closely linked. Our diet influences how we feel and, vice versa, emotions impact what, when and how much we eat.
Eating releases positive feelings – our brain is programmed that way. A lot of people also eat as a means of coping with negative feelings: e.g. if they are worried, overwhelmed or frustrated. This “emotional” eating only becomes a problem when it becomes a habit. For instance, it can serve as a precursor to excess weight gain, while the actual problem remains unresolved.
The smell of food can make us hungry – or not. The smell and taste of food can trigger a wide range of sensations in us, from pleasure to disgust. Negative emotional states, like grief, sadness or stress, have a major impact on eating behaviour. Boredom, on the other hand, is more likely to increase the desire to eat.
In stressful situations, many of us resort to stress-relieving snacks such as chocolate or crisps. Another term used is “comfort food”: a type of food that makes you feel good or gives you pleasure. These favourite foods often have a nostalgic, emotional value for us – Grandma’s rice pudding for example, or homemade mashed potatoes.
You also doubtless have your own comfort food, but the right diet can help you to concentrate and perform well during stressful situations. Which foods have a calming effect? And which can give your mind an energy boost?
Tanja Micheli, an expert in this field, provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article. Tanja (registered nurse, postgraduate degree in health promotion) works for Helsana’s health consultation team. She supports customers on questions to do with nutrition and health promotion.
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