Can you eat your way to happiness?
Yes, indeed you can.
Last week I introduced you to my Super Simple, Super Rational Plan for health and weight loss. I had my own epiphany moment when I realized that crazy fad diets are ridiculous, the results can’t possibly last, and in fact they’re often downright unhealthy. I realized that rational, simple eating is the path to long-term health and long-term perfect weight.
Let me now add that that rational, simple eating is also a path to happiness.
We’ve known about the connection between food, health and mood for a long, long time – all the way back to Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, who said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and let they medicine be thy food.”
What this means is, you are what you eat. So if you eat good, natural, real food, you’ll be healthy and happy. If you eat processed food or go on crazy yo-yo diets, you’ll be unhappy and unhealthy.
What happened? When did we get so far off track? It’s the perfect storm, actually. First, the big food industry realized they could make a lot more money by processing and packaging food than they could by simply selling plain old real food. Then, because processed and packaged food is loaded with chemicals and sugar, people started getting addicted to the enhanced sweetness and flavor, and they got fatter and fatter and more and more unhealthy. Viola! Enter the diet industry.
Stop the insanity of eating processed food and then dieting
There is huge, huge money to be made in both the processed food and diet industries. Huge money. According to Forbes, the packaged food industry–including everything from pasta and cooking oil to canned and frozen foods–is worth almost $1.6 trillion. Meanwhile, the World Bank puts the food and agriculture sector at 10% of global gross domestic product, which, taking the bank’s 2006 estimate of about $48 trillion, would make the sector worth about $4.8 trillion.
According to a report from ABC News, the annual revenue of the U.S. weight loss industry is $20 billion, including diet books, diet drugs and weight-loss surgery.
How much better can it get for these two industries?
And how much worse can it get for us?
Rates of depression increase 60% with processed food
The British Journal of Psychiatry reported on a large study that found that eating processed foods, such as refined carbohydrates, sweets, and processed meats, increased the risk of depression by about 60 percent. Eating a healthy whole foods diet, however, decreased the risk of depression by about 26 percent.
In the U.S. we spent $11 billion on antidepressant medication in 2010. What is wrong with this picture? A lot of things, but high on the list is the food – er – the excuse for food that we eat.
It’s simply common sense to see why we’ve gotten fatter and more depressed. Do you honestly and rationally think that the ticket to your happiness and health is putting chemicals (aka processed food) into your body, or switching up your diet every few months, trying Paleo for a time, then switching to vegan, then trying green smoothies, and so on? Do you seriously think that’s good for you in any way, shape or form? Of course not. But once again, big agri businesses, chemical companies, advertising and marketing have gotten ahold of our brains and turned them into mush.
It’s so extreme that now, according to the New York Times, more than 30 million Americans are currently taking antidepressants. The rate of antidepressant use among middle aged women is far higher than for the population as a whole, with one out of every four women in their 40s and 50s taking an antidepressant medication. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drug in the US, right after cholesterol medications.
The drug industry is another huge, huge winner in this game. And once again, we’re the losers (but not in weight)!
It’s time to stop this craziness right now. We’re not only fatter and more unhealthy, but we’re getting increasingly depressed.
You can eat your way to happiness
Why does real food decrease depression and increase happiness? Because real food contains all of the vitamins and minerals necessary to not only make us healthy, but to boost our moods as well. We need those vitamins and minerals to feed our feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA and tryptophan.
When you eat a well-rounded, whole foods diet and you do this long term – not for short-term weight loss – you’ll get all of the vitamins and minerals you need, and this is how you eat for happiness. For instance, the amino acid tryptophan can be found in raw pumpkin seeds, spirulina, raw spinach, sesame seeds, raw almonds, bananas, raw dried dates, raw oat groats, watercress, sunflower seeds, horseradish, pumpkin leaves, turnip greens, cacao, muscles, tuna, turkey, egg white.
Vitamins B6, B3 and magnesium, crucial for serotonin production, can be found in buckwheat, millet, oats, clams, lobster, and shrimp. Serotonin can be found in banana and cacao, and so on.
But don’t make this complicated. You don’t need to go to the store with charts and graphs trying to figure out which foods contain which minerals and so on. All you have do is think long term health, rather than short term diet, and buy a wide variety of healthy, whole food over the long term, and you’ll be covered.
Our bodies are designed to function optimally with real food. Processed food, on the other hand, such as processed sugar, contains elements that lower our mood. In fact, studies show that countries with the highest per capita intake of processed sugar are the countries with the highest rates of depression.
Let’s stop it right now. Especially if we want to be healthy and happy.
Here is your simple prescription for eating your way to happiness:
Throw out processed foods. They make us fat and unhappy. Think about the ingredients: processed sugar, refined carbs, trans fats, artificial food colorings and toxins. Hello?
Eat fish at least twice a week. Wild caught (not farm raised) fish maximizes brain-essential nutrients like iodine, zinc, B12, and copper, and also increases your intake of omega-3s, DHA and EPA.
Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and veggies as the foundation of your diet. I’ll repeat that – fruits and veggies should be the foundation of your diet – not a last minute add-on.
Focus on nutrients, not calories. When you go to the grocery store, think in terms of nutrients – not calories. This is easy to do when you simply think of buying a wide variety of fruits and veggies, some good grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice, and healthy protein. No need to bring a calculator with you trying to sort it all out – just remember to always buy lots of these foods and no processed food – and you’ll get the nutrients you need.
Never drink soda. Drink water. Done. If your taste buds are so accustomed to the creepy sweet flavor of soda, the gradually wean off. And don’t buy store-bought “vitamin” water for crying out loud!! The stuff is often loaded with processed sugar and other junk. If you’re not ready for plain water then sweeten it yourself by slicing up whatever you have in your fridge, such as lemons, oranges, cucumbers, and mint. Here are a few recipes.
Stop drinking fruit juice. Even though natural fruit is loaded with fiber, vitamins and natural sugar, when it’s processed into commercial fruit juice, you’re losing the fiber, and getting way more concentrated sugar than you need. Much better to eat just one orange or one apple.