| 8.4°C Dublin

Eat yourself happy

Serotonin, or the 'happy hormone', is the chemical in your brain that makes you feel good about yourself -- happy, relaxed yet motivated. And a lack of it leaves you feeling miserable about your lot and can be a root cause of illnesses such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia. Too little serotonin is most often associated with depression and stress.

So it's important to know how changes in your diet will affect the levels of serotonin in your body. And how a diet can result in you eating yourself into unhappiness, if you cut back on the foods which can naturally boost serotonin levels in your body.

You want to be trim, but you don't want to risk depression in your quest to shed a few pounds fast -- which can happen when you make drastic overnight changes in your diet.

In fact, cutting back on a variety of foods will affect you negatively -- while knowing the 'happy foods', which boost serotonin levels in your body, is a terrific way to instantly lift your mood.

The good news is that you can eat your way to happiness by carefully monitoring your intake of the foods which naturally boost the level of serotonin in your brain -- and you will begin to feel more content with your lot, happier with your self-image, and will find life easier to cope with on all levels.



Binge

The road to happiness is eating a diet full of serotonin-boosting foods. So where do you begin? With carbohydrates, which set off a series of biochemical reactions that allow the brain to make serotonin. Yet carbs are the first thing many women banish following a food binge.

The fact is, women have less serotonin in their brains than men, so any serotonin- depleting diet will make a woman feel irritable or depressed.

It's important to eat your healthy high- carbohydrate foods along with proteins. For starters, avoid white flour and sugar carbohydrates, as these foods will boost short-term high serotonin levels but will then suddenly drop, causing fatigue.

Good carbohydrate foods are not refined and processed, but are in their natural state. They are filling, have a role in weight loss, and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

Examples of good carbohydrate foods are vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, wholegrain breads, wholegrain cereals, and some dairy products.

Fibre-filled, complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice are great stress relievers and aid better sleep.

To be happy, also eat protein. Researchers are not sure why, but carbohydrates need tryptophan (an amino acid that occurs in proteins) to help raise serotonin levels in the brain. So to boost serotonin levels, eat high-protein food such as chicken, fish, eggs and dairy along with vegetables, nuts, peas, avocados and bananas.

Meanwhile, protein-rich foods also helps boost dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters in the brain that lead to increased heightening in mood. Turkey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also great sources of protein.

There are other ways you can eat your way to happiness. People who feel down tend to have low levels of vitamin B-6 which is needed for the production of serotonin.

Low levels of B-12, B-2 and folic acid can cause you to feel down in the dumps. To boost your B vitamin levels, eat lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, low-fat dairy, bananas, fortified cereals and vegetables.

And another vitamin to work into your diet is vitamin C. If you are grumpy, irritable and in danger of alienating those closest to you, chances are you are not getting enough of this vitamin. Eat plenty of fresh, raw fruit and vegetables, citrus fruit and peppers.

The third vital vitamin to boost your mood is iron, which also helps in the production of the 'happy hormone' serotonin. Foods rich in iron include red meat, egg yolk, liver, red kidney beans, chickpeas, wholegrains, nuts and leafy green vegetables.

The antioxidant mineral selenium is another known mood booster. Women suffering from a lack of selenium have been shown to be more anxious, irritable, hostile, and depressed than women who aren't.

Correct a selenium deficiency, and your mood will improve. However, taking extra selenium will not elevate your mood further. You can get a daily dose of this antioxidant by eating Brazil nuts, a tuna sandwich, sunflower seeds or wholegrain cereals.

Calcium is also recognised as one of the best mood-enhancement supplements, so have some low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or even skimmed milk.



Sardines

Omega 3 fatty acids are also linked to boosting happiness, and good sources are salmon, tuna, sardines, flaxseed and walnuts.

A lack of essential fatty acids can lead to anxiety and a bad mood, and can impair brain functioning.

Magnesium-rich foods instantly help people feel calm, so incorporate more leafy and green veggies, bananas, nuts and seeds, as well as tuna, sardines, and salmon into your diet.

The message is, while healthy dieting can lead to weight loss after binge eating, you must be careful about what you eliminate from your diet, and which foods you cut back on, if you don't want to have a negative affect on how often you smile.

Being slim and depressed is not a good look! So make sure to eat a balanced diet and exercise more in your quest to get slim for summer.


Privacy