Feelings of Food: Exploring the Mind Body Connection
by Grace Perry, AFHK Program Manager and Registered Dietitian
Do you ever wonder if your child is feeling their absolute best? As a parent, I know it can be easy to assume how our children are feeling – but how we make sure they are really in a good place? One way is by exploring the relationship between food, the body and the mind. This connection can help us better understand our children’s mood and behaviors as they relate to the food they consume and help to ensure they are fueling up for with the things that support the structure and function of the brain, body and ultimately how they feel.
The brain functions best with nutrient-dense foods. Eating high-quality foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants powers optimal brain function to support critical thinking, learning and memory. Foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk products, seafood and lean meats, eggs, beans and legumes along with nuts are packed with beneficial nutrients at low caloric levels. These foods provide the fuel your brain needs 24/7 to stay healthy and active while functioning at its best. Processed and refined foods are lower in quality and can be harmful to your body. Causing inflammation and stress, they can actually inhibit your brain function as your body struggles to get rid of damaging chemicals found in these foods.
That gut feeling says a lot. The bacteria in your gut can also affect how you feel, which influences the ways in which those feelings are expressed through different behaviors. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your sleep and appetite, dictate your moods, and prevent pain. Ninety-five percent of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, so your digestive system doesn’t just have the job of digesting food, but also controlling your emotions. Serotonin is highly influenced by the “good” bacteria that lives in your intestine and it plays an important role in your overall health. It not only influences what your gut absorbs (healthy nutrients and minerals) and gets rid of (toxins), it also protects against inflammation and stimulates a direct connection between the gut and the brain – fueling your mood and energy level. Curious about these good mood foods? Take a look at some of the benefits they can provide!
- Grab a handful of berries – they’re loaded with antioxidants that support strong immune systems and help fight off stress.
- Leafy green vegetables are packed with magnesium and other nutrients – a great boost for energy and stamina.
- Yogurt is a good source of probiotic bacteria – helping the good bacteria in our gut flourish and better support our mood (but watch the labels to make sure the yogurt you enjoy is only made of simple ingredients and has no added sugars).
- Scramble up some eggs – the yolks are full of choline – a nutrient known to help improve memory and cognition.
High levels of performance run on high levels of nutrients. What we eat not only affects our mind and feelings, but in turn impacts our performance. Consuming a healthy and well-balanced diet fuels our physical and emotional processes and helps to maintain energy and endurance so we can enjoy the activities, play and sports we love most. It’s also important to pair optimal nutrition with adequate hydration as our bodies need water to support its many internal functions including a healthy digestive system. Creating a diet rich in high quality foods can also help reduce the risk of many chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis, among others – keeping our body performing at its best.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a key role in your child’s health. Knowing how the foods you eat impact your energy, mood and overall health is the first step in being able to model healthy nutrition habits for your children. It’s important to promote good dietary behaviors and make sure children are receiving the food appropriate for their development while building a knowledge base of proper nutrition to maintain a healthy relationship with food. To start, get to know the appropriate needs and nutrient requirements for your child, and be mindful of the changes across different age ranges and adjust accordingly. Promote a healthy and well-balanced diet at home by:
- starting the day with a balanced breakfast
- making half your child’s plate consist of fruits and vegetables at mealtime
- choosing healthy sources of protein such as lean meats, nuts, fish, legumes and eggs
- serving whole-grain and whole wheat bread, pasta, and cereals
- choosing not to fry foods, but broil, grill, or steam them instead
- limiting fast food intake
- offering water or skim/low-fat milk instead of sodas and sugary drinks
- encouraging hydration throughout the day
Role modeling is our most powerful tool as we teach our children healthy habits that influence their social and emotional well-being. The slightest change in your words and behaviors at home can make a significant impact. Take this information and start making small changes today. Become informed, start the conversation, and reap the benefits of having a child who feels great and is well-equipped to function at their best!