Health & Wellness

What you eat does matter

How diet affects mood, productivity, and life expectancy
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Looking to improve your overall wellness? Diet is a powerful influencer not just for physical health but mental health as well. 

Most of us are taught from a young age just how important good nutrition is to fitness. Less attention is paid to the impact it has on our emotional state. 

Fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, beans and whole grains provide energy for staying active and nutrients for growth and repair and general health. They also reduce anxiety and depression, improve concentration and help with mood swings. 

Meanwhile, if you fill your plate with processed meats and refined sugars and consume drinks with no nutritional value, you’re setting yourself up for problems: fatigue, stress, mood disorders and impaired brain function are among them. 

It’s a connection that went unchecked by the medical field for many years. Today however there is a better understanding, particularly of how the health of the gastrointestinal tract directly affects the brain chemistry and mood. 

As explained by the American Psychological Association, microbes in the GI tract do more than just block harmful microbes and defend against pathogens. 

“Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 per cent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.” 

If you’re unsure of what to eat to achieve the greatest benefit below are some tips: 

Foods to improve mood 

For a sunnier disposition, Betty Doyling, a fitness columnist for The Royal Gazette, recommends that everyone include the following in their diet: 

1. Green vegetables Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens are high in potassium and calcium which are said to be able to help regulate stress hormones and improve sleep cycles. 

2. Fatty fish Salmon, tuna and halibut are rich in two types of omega-3 acids which are linked to lower levels of depression. A 3.5oz serving of salmon provides 2,260mg of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid – experts say most adults need 250mg to 500mg of combined EPA and DHA per day. 

3. Beans and lentils Beans and lentils are great sources of B vitamins, which increase the level of our happy hormones – serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and gamma aminobutyric acid. These neurotransmitters are chemical messengers; the signals they carry to cells help regulate mood and stave off clinical depression and anxiety. 

4. Dark chocolate Like beans and lentils, the flavonoids in cocoa help modulate the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine which leads to feelings of happiness and wellbeing. 

5. Nuts and seeds Nuts help you stay fuller, longer, which keeps irritability at bay. They also pack a big punch of tryptophan, which is said to improve mood. 

6. Berries Berries are also rich in flavonoid, which helps regulate mood, improve memory and reduces inflammation. Berries are also packed with antioxidants that can help support brain function and promote positive energy. 

The impact of processed foods 

People whose diets are high in processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats are said to have increased risk of depression and anxiety. 

Such foods not only lack the nutrients needed for optimal brain function but also promote inflammation and disrupt gut microbial balance, contributing to mood imbalances and decreased wellbeing. 

Sugary drinks, frozen meals, deli meats and most breakfast cereals are among the things to avoid if a happy state of mind is what you’re after. 

What makes it tough to walk away is that processed foods sometimes have added salt, sugar and fat which make their flavour more appealing than healthy options. 

If you eat them regularly however, the outcome is certain. According to the British Heart Foundation, research has proven that a poor diet will actually shorten your life as overconsumption of salt, fat and sugar increases the risk of serious illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. 

“It showed that those who ate the most ultra-processed food were 24 per cent more likely to experience serious heart and circulatory events including heart attacks, strokes and angina,” the BHF reported. 

“Each ten per cent rise in daily intake of ultra-processed food was linked with a six per cent increase in heart disease risk.” 

Food and length of life 

Research has long proven that a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats will reduce the risk of chronic diseases. 

That’s not the only benefit. Eating well can also extend life expectancy. Health professionals say that people who switch from typical western eating and follow a Mediterranean-style diet instead, can add as many as ten years to their time on earth. 

Rooted in the traditional eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean diets emphasise consumption of nutrient-dense, whole foods. 

Especially important for cardiovascular health are heart-healthy fats in olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as salmon. Both reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death. 

Diet and productivity 

The quality of food we consume plays an important role in energy and brain function, both of which have tremendous influence over productivity in the workplace. 

A steady supply of nutrients is vital for the brain to function at its best – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates are all essential. 

Particularly important are omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts and flaxseeds for cognitive function. A steady supply can improve concentration, problem-solving and memory. 

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