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    By Patrick Lee

    Over the past two decades, scientific research has spurred a growing awareness of diet and nutrition. Calorie counting, vitamin supplements, and diet plans such as Atkins or Weight Watchers are all examples of a stronger social focus on improved physical health. Closely related to this concept is the link between food and happiness. Significantly, this happiness does not correspond to the temporary joy experienced when consuming sugary or fatty foods, but it refers to, as health researcher Mike Adams puts it, “sustainable happiness,” a deeper kind of wellbeing associated with long-term physical and mental health.[1] A balanced diet that follows the food pyramid, including healthy servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains along with minimal fats and sweets, is a central component of long-term happiness because it provides an ideal array of nutrients that help the body maintain peak performance. However, there is also a host of foods that have a direct effect on both neurological functioning and physical health. This combination of physical wellbeing and a stable mental state are key factors in promoting sustainable happiness. The following is a list of a few foods and nutrients that promote long-term happiness:

    1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Omega-3 fatty acids are essential unsaturated fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be produced naturally by the human body and thus must be ingested. Omega-3’s have been used to help with a variety of conditions, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis.[2] A clinical study also demonstrated that when given daily supplements of omega-3’s, patients with bipolar disorder showed decreased levels of depression after eight weeks.[3] On the cellular level, one such fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a critical substituent in the phospholipid layer in plasma membranes in the brain, and consequently, it plays a role in the upkeep of synaptic [4]. Because of its direct correlation to the firing of neurons, a steady dosage of omega 3-s has been suggested as a preventative measure against a host of neurological disorders such as dementia, attention-deficit disorder, and schizophrenia.[5] Though these disorders are rare, omega-3’s are nevertheless important in maintaining mental longevity and preventing the onset of neurological disorders in old age. Excellent foods containing these fatty acids include salmon, halibut, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil, spinach, shrimp, and other seafood.[6]

    2. Folic Acid

    Folic acid functions in the synthesis and breakdown of proteins, and it helps with the production of DNA and red blood cells.[7] Vitamin B9 yields a host of other physical benefits, but it also plays a role in mental wellness. A healthy dosage of folic acid is associated with slowing down the decline of cognitive function associated with aging[8]. In addition, it assists with the regulation of serotonin, a critical neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood.[9] To take advantages of these health benefits, one can turn to green foods such as spinach, melons, bok choy, asparagus, beets, and broccoli; these are all excellent ways to reach the recommended 400 microgram daily intake of folic acid.[10]

    3. Dark Chocolate

    It turns out that everyone’s favorite dessert also contributes to happiness, at least when taken in small doses. In terms of bodily wellness, chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids that slow the aging process by eliminating free radicals.[11] Free radicals are highly unstable and reactive molecules that are an inevitable byproduct of the oxygen gas flowing through the bloodstream. These antioxidants react with the free radicals and greatly increase their stability, thus halting the damage free radicals could cause elsewhere in the body. In addition, chocolate produces a direct happiness effect on the brain that has a biochemical basis. Because of its fat and phenylethylamine components, chocolate releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones associated with happiness.[12] However, it should be duly noted that chocolate in excess can have quite detrimental effects due to its high sugar and fat content, and dark chocolate should be chosen over milk chocolate to reduce this potential risks.[13]

    Indeed, it is crucial to note the difference between the long-term health benefits of these aforementioned foods, as opposed to the short bursts of energy and happiness caused by sugars. According to nutritionist Lisa Davis, simple carbohydrates, such as sweet and sugary foods, cause an increase in the body’s blood sugar levels, which in turn produces a temporary high, or sugar rush.[14] However, the body responds to this rapid influx of sugar by producing too much insulin, which overcompensates and brings blood sugar levels below the body’s normal limits; the body then attempts to raise blood sugar again by producing adrenaline, which causes the anxiety and stress.[15] This seesaw effect allows for temporary feelings of euphoria but is ultimately detrimental to the constant, stable blood sugar levels associated with sustainable happiness and long-term physical wellbeing. Though occasional sugar intake in moderation is acceptable for a temporary mood lift, excessive levels over long periods of time are hurtful.

    These are three simple ways that improving one’s diet can lead to increased happiness and wellbeing. All of these foods share a commonality in that they provide both physical and mental benefits. This combination can ultimately produce this sustainable happiness that researcher Mike Adams mentioned. A consistent preservation of physical and neurological functioning, combined with the occasional mood lift from foods such as chocolate, provides a good recipe for this sort of happiness.


    Interesting References

    1. Explore the connection between mood and food and learn about additional foods that promote happiness.
    2. Elizabeth Somer, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, provides some tips on how to utilize diet to maximize energy and improve mood.
    3. Medline plus is a great, comprehensive resource for learning more about specific vitamins and minerals, including benefits, risks, research findings, and ways to incorporate them into your diet.
    4. This article provides a scientific overview of the normal dietary requirements for healthy neurological functioning
    5. Look into additional “brain foods”, and see how coffee, cacao beans, and green tea can be beneficial.



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