You are what you eat – why Feeling Happy is a question of Food
“Eat well. Live well. Be well.”
What is the first thing you normally do in the morning? Snoozing the alarm for the next half hour? Grabbing your phone and scrolling through the news or social media? Heading towards the kitchen and make yourself a coffee?
A couple of years ago my day started with snoozing the alarm, going down into the kitchen and make myself a coffee, before I started making breakfast for the family. As a full-time family manager, I had time for checking the news and social media later, so I concentrated on getting the kids ready for school. An hour and a half later, I was ready for the second coffee, but at 10 am I was so tired, that I hardly resisted going back to sleep.
My daily dose of coffee stimulated my central nervous system and helped me to stay awake and be less tired (especially during times with small kids and unsteady night sleep). But an hour later, this impact already faded. I felt the need to drink another coffee to keep the level of alertness.
It was time to install a new morning routine: I stopped snoozing the alarm, got up earlier to take a couple of minutes for stretching, which over the years expanded to a complete Yoga session plus meditation. What else could I change?
“Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”
In general, I would have called myself “a healthy eater”, eating a balanced mix of fruits and vegetables combined with wheat, pasta, sometimes meat and fish and from time to time a piece of cake in the afternoon. I never had weight problems, so my diet seems to work. Nevertheless, I noticed imbalances in my energy level, which I tow on the tiring housework and keeping myself busy with the kids’ stuff.
While living in Greece, I decided to work on my hydration balance and started the day with a glass of lemon water and a cup of tea instead of coffee. I skipped the breakfast toast and ate a yoghurt with fruits. The lemon water as well as the yoghurt (preferable with a sip of linseed oil) stimulated the digestive system, the fruits were the first daily dose of vitamins.
After dropping my kids off at school and getting back home, I rewarded myself with a nice cup of coffee and some bread with jam. I immediately noticed my energy level staying more constant throughout the morning.
I started to take a deeper look into the aliments I consumed to uncover more hidden energy robber. What I found “at every corner” was sugar and wheat. “What´s wrong with having some sugar from time to time”, you may ask?
“Get yourself a happy feeling from the right kind of food”
Since years science has proven that sugar is not only responsible for overweight and related issues as high blood pressure and increased risk of heart diseases, but it also influences the cognitive brain functions and the capacity for remembering.
Sugar increases the production of the hormone insulin, which stimulates the brain to set free dopamine, also known as “happiness hormone”. We are immediately drawn to this feeling of happiness and consume more than the body needs. Other side effects of a high sugar consume are mood swings, anxiety and even depression (due to a raised blood sugar level).
Reducing sugary food is the first step to be in control of a normal insulin function and a synthetic increase of the “happiness hormone”. All comestible which lead to a slow and steady insulin production, like whole grains, protein rich beans or nuts, help us keeping a constant energy level throughout the day. Greens and many other vegetables guarantee a steady digestion and support the body with necessary vitamins.
“Unless you stole it, you should never feel guilty about any food you eat.”
What about wheat? There is nothing wrong with it. Only that over the decades we have drastically increased our wheat consumption. Bread, pizza and pasta are often the main components of a meal. Chopping and cutting vegetables costs time, many people don´t take for preparing a healthy lunch or dinner. We grab the first thing we get, which is a sandwich, a frozen pizza or pasta. But these are “empty calories”; they saturate us without giving additional value.
If you carefully choose the amount of wheat products and supplement it with vegetables and other nutrition rich products, there is nothing wrong with having wheat products on your menu, if you are not suffering under wheat incompatibility.
An even better solution is eating whole grain products. They will feed your body with vitamins, dietary fibers and mineral nutrients and are a good way to support a (mainly) plant-based diet.
There are lots of factors for a healthy and balanced diet, getting to know your body and testing out the aliments, are a good way to start. In general, experts recommend eating as best as you can local and seasonal. The decision on whether you prefer a predominantly plant-based diet or even vegan, can only be made by yourself.
“Eat more whole plant foods and less of everything else”
More and more people decide on a plant-based diet, mainly to support their health. Especially red meat is considered to increase the risk of diabetes, disruption in the cardiovascular system and bowel cancer, explained Scientists of the Harvard School of Health in Boston, who examined 121.000 participants in a long-time study between 1980 and 2008. In 2015 a study from the WHO (world health organization) graded cold cuts as carcinogenic. They contain hidden fats, often times sugar and a variety of additional ingredients, like nitrates and nitrites, which influence the insulin production. In lots of European countries cold cuts are a huge part of the daily diet.
Better to select a good piece of meat (advisably organic) twice a week. It gives the body necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals. Buying organic, supports fair prices for meat and reduces the impact on the environment.
Reducing meat and other animal products is not only considered as beneficial for the organism, but also for reducing the negative impacts on the climate due to industrial livestock farming, which is a large topic on its own and won´t be covered in this article.
“It´s not a short-term diet, it´s a long-term lifestyle change.”
7 Tipps for a healthy diet:
- Drink, drink, drink (best: still water, unsweetened tea, juice with water)
- Reduce sugar (avoid soft drinks and prefab food as they often contain sugar)
- Eat local and seasonal
- Fruits and vegetables should make up 40-60% of your daily food consumption
- Eat whole grain products, protein rich beans, nuts
- Eat healthy fats/oils (e.g. olive, sunflower, corn, etc.)
- Reduce pasta, pizza, wheat, meat (& cold cuts), fats and sugary products
I was never a big sugar eater, but now I prefer even more to bake cakes and sometimes even bread myself, so I can determine the ingredients (brown sugar, maple syrup, spelt flour, dried fruits, whole grains). In addition, I decided to switch to a vegetarian diet, and it works very well for me. We still cook meat for the kids – a couple of times a week, mainly organic. Meanwhile we tried out many new recipes, which are solely plant-based. These are not only delicious but also fun to cook.
I am absolutely certain, that my balanced nutrition has added up to the overall feeling of contentment and happiness in my life.
Whatever you favor to consume, it´s likewise to everything else in life: choose wisely, take enough time, eat with awareness and most importantly dine with joy and gratitude.
Above all feeling happy is a question of food.