Eat yourself happy

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?

25.01.2024 Daniela Schori 3 minutes

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.

Nutrients for endorphins

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.

These foods can make you happy

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:

  • Iron: pulses, such as lentils and beans
  • Calcium: cheese
  • Iodine: fish
  • Chromium: wholemeal bread
  • Potassium: apricots
  • Selenium: mushrooms
  • Tryptophan: beef, poultry, eggs, cashew nuts, dark chocolate, figs
  • Capsaicin: chillies
  • Gingerol: ginger
  • Magnesium: almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pulses, grains
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: rapeseed oil, salmon, grass-fed beef
  • B vitamins: meat, fish, eggs, dairy produce, pulses and wholegrain products

Happy eating with the Helsana Coach app

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.

Emotions influence eating behaviour

Diet and emotions are closely linked. Our diet influences how we feel and, vice versa, emotions impact what, when and how much we eat.

Emotional eating

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.

Feelings influence appetite

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.

Comfort food for the soul

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?

Nutritional tips for stress

Five ways to eat yourself happy

  1. Eat with others. Research has found that eating together – be it with family, friends or at work – makes you more empathetic, relaxed and happier.
  2. Spicy food boosts our mood. Our brain processes spiciness as a pain signal. The body releases endorphins, aiding relaxation and encouraging a feeling of euphoria. Peppers, ginger, vanilla and cardamom have a harmonising and invigorating effect, too.
  3. Enjoy with all the senses. Just as quality makes food taste good, consistency and aesthetics also trigger positive feelings. Pay attention to the colours and how everything comes together. Let yourself be inspired by food art.
  4. Treats are part of this, too. What is your favourite thing to eat? Treat yourself to it every now and then. Denying yourself a treat for prolonged periods leads to frustration and bad moods.
  5. Eat mindfully. Ready meals when you’re pressed for time, distractions in the form of mobile phones or TV – the setting and our eating behaviour both impact our well-being. Chew each bite 20 to 30 times and savour the taste.

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