Bad days are inevitable. Everybody has them. And whether you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or experience something upsetting mid-day, feeling bummed out isn’t fun for anyone.
And on days when we’re feeling low, many of us tend to look to food as a pick me up. But why is this the case? Can food actually make you happy?
It turns out that some foods are scientifically proven to lift your spirits. So, let’s say grumpily you happen to break off a piece of dark chocolate to feel better. Well, according to some recent studies, the consumption of chocolate actually led to an improvement in participants’ mood states or the attenuation of negative moods.1
Let’s take a closer look.
What Is The Gut-Brain Axis?
How is it possible that the food you eat can actually affect your mood? The answer is your body’s gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is responsible for the bidirectional communication between your enteric nervous system and your central nervous system. Turns out, the gut-brain axis links the cognitive and emotional centers in your brain with outlying intestinal functions.2
In fact, recent advances in research have pointed to the importance of your gut bugs in influencing these communications. It seems that your gut bugs and the gut-brain axis communicate bidirectionally. That means your gut bugs send messages to your brain (and vice versa) by means of neural, endocrine, immune, and humoral links.3
Put another way, your gut and your brain communicate with one another through your nervous system. So if you’re stressed out, for instance, your brain will tell your gut. That’s why people tend to talk about having a ‘nervous stomach’.4
The connection between your gut and your brain is just one of the reasons some scientists and researchers refer to your gut your second brain. Your gut affects the way you feel — body and mind.
Comfort Foods For Your Gut And Mind
Now, when you’re stressed or cranky, what’s the first thing you think about doing? You just want to crawl beneath your blanket on your couch, turn on your favorite binge-worthy t.v. show, and drown your sorrows in a bowl of ice cream or bag of barbecue chips. Or do you prefer to make a batch of pasta and down every last bit?
Most people crave “comfort food” when they’re upset or stressed out. But the truth is, these carb-heavy, lectin-filled “comfort foods” will not make you feel any better. In fact, oftentimes they’ll make you feel even worse. And on top of that, they will take a toll on your overall health.
And the good news is, there are tons of great foods to indulge in that will not only make you feel great, but support your health as well. It’s time to redefine comfort food.
Again, take dark chocolate for example. It’s scientifically proven to support a positive mood. In fact, a recent study reported an acute improvement of visual and cognitive functions linked to the consumption of cocoa flavanols. There is also evidence that within this study the flavonols improved participants mood.5
So if you rethink “comfort food” as the foods that will comfort your gut, you can actually gain a little bit of control over feeling better.
Rethinking “Comfort Foods”: What Are The Best Lectin-Free Comfort Foods?
You’ve heard of serotonin, right? It’s known as the “feel-good” hormone and (surprise, surprise) it’s produced in your gut. Serotonin can affect several body systems — including your mood, your appetite, how you sleep, and even how you tend to behave.6
Now, not all of the foods that support your serotonin levels actually contain serotonin. Instead, most contain tryptophan (from which serotonin is synthesized). So, foods high in tryptophan can naturally help you increase serotonin levels.7 There are some plant foods, however, that do contain some serotonin.
The following foods support serotonin production and may therefore be able to help lighten your mood if you’re feeling disenchanted or stressed:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Almonds (blanched)
- Omega-3 eggs8
- Green bananas
Other healthy “comfort foods” may contain the neurotransmitter gaba. Moreover, your gut microbiota are considerable sources of gaba. This means they might also be able to help you manage your stress. Try these foods that contain gaba:
- Parmesan cheese
Foods That May Support Your Endorphin Levels
When you eat chocolate — and let’s be clear, this means the bittersweet kind (72% or higher) — your gut actually tells your brain to release endorphins.11 Other foods with a similar effect are:
- In-season strawberries(in moderation)12
Finally, try to consume more of these foods that may help support melatonin production for a good night’s sleep.
- Fresh in-season cherries (only eat them mid-summer and only in moderation)
- Omega-3 eggs
- Dijon mustard15
A Happy Gut For A Happy Mood
In the end, eating the right types of whole, natural foods can potentially support a positive mood.
However, if you’re struggling with your mood levels or have questions about your mental well-being, you might want to have a chat with your healthcare professional.
When you treat it right, your gut can be the key to unlocking better health throughout your body. So, the next time you wake on the wrong side of the bed, see if any of these foods do the trick for you and if they do… share them with not-so-happy co-workers and friends.