The Correlation Between Mental Health and Nutrition Part Five

At some point, we have all experienced cravings that seem to have come out of nowhere. You know how it works – you wake up one random morning or you are walking down the street late one afternoon and all of a sudden, there is something you can’t live without and you can’t wait another minute. Your mouth starts to water and you can’t take your mind off of it until you take that first bite. Have you ever wondered why these food cravings occur? Sometimes they come from a familiar or comfortable place, for example when visiting your favorite restaurant, and no matter how hard you try, you always end up sitting in front of the same meal. In reality, the role of food cravings exists as an important function designed as a type of alert system in the body. With the recent discovery of the additional brains in our stomach and a new respect for gut health, food cravings should make a lot more sense than just seemingly dropping from the sky. When the body is functioning properly, cravings can help alert us to deficiencies of certain foods or nutrients. Cravings can show up in either a physical or mental capacity, designed by the body with the specific purpose of telling us what nutrients the body needs. Sadly, in a world driven by profits, food manufactures have studied the science behind all of this and do their best to develop products that can synthetically produce the same effects that cravings do on the brain. It’s true, you really “can’t eat just one”.

In the same vein as cravings, most people will naturally seek out certain foods based on their emotional state. There is a reason that the cookie jar empties fast during stressful times in life. Carbohydrates, which can be found in most sweets like cake and cookies have been proven to produce calming effects on the brain and body. Carbohydrates have been linked to serotonin, which is a chemical produced in the brain that is released to boost our mood. This is the reason that you see trays of sweets and carb-loaded foods at sad and tragic events. These carbohydrates will literally help in lightening the overall mood of the event. People who crave carbohydrates often suffer from low serotonin levels in the brain.

Although carbohydrates will give you a burst of energy or help you feel better, it is often a short lived burst inevitably followed by a crash. In order to prevent these swings, it is better to search for foods that can produce the same results and properly fuel the body rather than tricking it. Instead of eating short-acting carbs, look for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as protein-rich foods.

Protein-rich foods provide the body with a proper source of fuel that helps stabilize the body physically and mentally rather than the rollercoaster of super highs and lows produced by eating simple carbs. Protein has been proven to increase energy and alertness. Meat proteins like chicken and turkey also have an amino acid called tryptophan, which can help the brain produce serotonin naturally. Protein is a critical part of our diet. This is the type of fuel the body needs to keep us going and full of energy throughout the day. There is no doubt that we function much better when feeling energized and can help to sustain mental health in the long run when we are not constantly feeling run down and tired.