You know the scene, a woman experiences a break-up and out comes the pajamas, messy bun, movie, and pint of ice-cream. Media such as movies, TV, and even books has popularized the idea of comfort food during times of stress or heartbreak. When I examine my own life, I can admit to a pattern of eating more French fries, chips, cookies, or ice-cream when I am stressed. It feels good at the time; however, it is not the best habit to have long term.
Researchers such as Dr. Uma Naidoo, author of the book "This is Your Brain on Food," study how certain foods compromise our gut bacteria and weaken our memory and focus. Gut bacteria can trigger metabolic processes and brain inflammation that affect memory. Cutting down on or avoiding foods that trigger inflammation can in turn promote brain health and increase good decision-making.
Glucose is a form of sugar used to fuel cellular activities in our brains. However, too much of it can cause memory impairment. Unhealthy processed foods like cookies, cakes, have refined and added sugars (often in form of high-fructose corn syrup) that flood our brains with too much glucose.
A study found in the British Medical Journal reported that people who consumed more than 14 drinks per week had a higher risk of dementia compared to those who drank alcohol in moderation.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School in a March 2020 study found that nitrates could alter gut bacteria in a way that causes bipolar disorder. Nitrates are found in foods such as bacon, sausage, and salami.
There was a time in life that I literally could eat fried chicken every single day of the week. I still struggle with eating French fries 3 or 4 times a week. There was a 2016 study by Cambridge University that found that people who consumed a diet high in fried foods had lower scores on testing on learning and memory. The suspected reason is that fried foods cause inflammation that can damage blood vessels that supply the brain with blood. A later study found that people who consumed more fried foods were more likely to develop depression in their lifetime. Though I no longer eat fried chicken as often (in fact I only consume meat 1 day per week) I still need to get my French fry eating under control.
High GI carbs
I have never been a huge bread fan. However, I love pasta. Spaghetti, lasagna, pasta salad, heck even Ramen noodles. Though these foods are not sweet, my body and yours processes it the same way it does sugar.
So now that we know what foods negatively impact our brains and overall health, are there any foods that have the opposite effect yet still make us feel good? The wonderful thing about nature, is that she has solutions to our needs if we know where to look.
Our bodies need vitamin B6 to create serotonin, and bananas are rich in this particular nutrient. Serotonin isa chemical responsible for helping our bodies regulate mood, sleep, digestion, wound healing, bone health, and sexual desire. Lack of enough serotonins is thought to play a role in depression and anxiety.
I have a cousin out there that is going to love this. A 2016 study found that coffee consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of depression. However, the key of course is to not load coffee with added sugars, otherwise you'd be working a cross purposes.
Sauerkraut for your hotdog? Why not! Foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt aid in helping our bodies maintain gut health. A healthy gut helps improve our mood. Why? One reason is that our gut cells are responsible for producing about 90% of serotonin in our body. Now don't use that first sentence as an excuse to increase your hotdog intake; again cross-purposes as hotdogs are one of those highly processed foods that negatively impact brain health.
Rather than a handful of chips or cookies, try berries instead. Berries are known to be rich in antioxidants or flavonoids which not only help with skin health and the appearance of aging but also may reduce depression symptoms.
Hey, I had to give you at least one candy on this list. Tryptophan, theobromine, and phenylethylalanine are the three components of dark chocolate that are thought to be associated with the feeling of happiness. Tryptophan is an amino acid that our brains use to produce serotonin. Theobromine is a stimulant that can improve our mood. Phenylethylalanine is an amino acid used to produce dopamine which acts as an antidepressant.
Whenever life happens and the stress mounts, it can be all too easy to reach for cookies, chips, ice-cream, or even alcohol. I'll also be the first to admit, these foods can give momentary satisfaction; however, in the long run they do more harm to our mental health and well-being. We'd love to hear from you in the comments; what is your go to comfort food? Have you identified any needed changes? No matter how old we are, it is never too late to start eating in a way that we both enjoy, gives us our boost of happy, and is good for our bodies long term. Change will not occur over night. Please remember, as you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." ~Charles M. Schulz
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