The International Day of Happiness is celebrated worldwide every year on 20 March. The 2020 International Day of Happiness campaign theme is “Happiness For All, Together”. Associate Professor Lina Zabulienė, an endocrinologist at the Faculty of Medicine of Vilnius University, and dietician Edita Saukaitytė-Butvilė would like to share their thoughts on this occasion.
As the clouds of pessimistic forecasts gather over the public space, we can no longer hear the birds chirping, no longer see budding plants, and no smell the breath of spring, and our future plans seem far on the horizon. We are undoubtedly aware that the world around us (family, loved ones, friends, and colleagues) will be affected in one way or another, and this feeling of how long we will be in this state of uncertainty depends only on our joint efforts, self-control, and attention to the health of others. Knowing this, there is an uncontrollable desire to hear good news: today is the DAY OF HAPPINESS.
Research shows that our level of happiness depends on our well-being, health, age, relationship with our loved ones, social status, ability to rest and relax, and physical activity, and even on government decisions and the quality of our food. Because many of us are spending many days at home alone or surrounded by family in order to stop the spread of the virus, today we want to talk about the connection between happiness and food.
First, having a daily regime and knowing one’s limits are important. Interviews of more than 500 medical students revealed that the happiest were the young people who had three main meals (including breakfast) and 1–2 snacks each day and ate more than eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day. It was proved that those who eat breakfast have better cognitive functions, especially memory, less depression, and fewer weight problems.
Another study of 400 individuals clearly showed that the Mediterranean diet, which is particularly beneficial to our immunity, can reduce the risk of depression, especially in diabetics. It has been found that the closer the diet of Spanish adolescents to the principles of the Mediterranean diet, the greater the feeling of happiness associated with a better mood and social acceptance. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish dominate the Mediterranean diet. By eating these products, we get the immune-critical vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), zinc, and antioxidants. Higher levels of antioxidants in the blood are associated with greater optimism.
Eating larger amounts of fruits and vegetables has been found to help people be happier, more creative, more curious, and less moody, so that they can enjoy themselves more and more easily overcome stress. It is advisable to eat yellow, red and green fruits and vegetables daily: carrots, cucumbers, dark green leafy vegetables, peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, bananas, apples, kiwi, fresh berries, grapefruit, and oranges and other citrus fruits.
More than two-thirds of the immune cells are found in the intestine, so a healthy and well functioning bowel is essential for immunity and a good mood. Dietary probiotics (good bacteria), which are naturally sourced from fermented dairy products and fermented vegetables, are important for good bowel function. These products should be eaten daily. Feed the good bacteria their favourite foods, prebiotics, which are found in abundance in garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, apples, oats, barley, walnuts, flaxseeds, and cocoa (and dark chocolate!). Avoid foods that are difficult or take a long time to digest, are heavily processed, or are high on the glycemic index: dishes made from grated potatoes or white flour, sweets, baked goods, various sauces/dressings (more healthy sauces/dressings can be made with olive oil or linseed oil mixed with lemon juice), and processed meat products. To avoid constipation, eat foods high in fibre drink a suitable amount of unsweetened, non-carbonated liquids: 20–30 ml per kilogram of body weight per day.
Second, in the early spring, the highest vitamin D deficiency is observed. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown to be associated with weaker immunity and more frequent colds. This vitamin is special because we get most of it from sunlight, and only a very small amount comes from food. People living at our latitude therefore undergo a shortage during the winter months and are recommended to take vitamin D supplements between October and May. The recommended dose is 800–2000 IU daily.
Third, our lifestyle is important: our sleep, physical activity, and ability to relax. Sufficient and good quality sleep is also very important for immunity. Studies show that those sleeping for 6 hours or less a night are four times more likely to catch cold than those sleeping for 7 hours or more. Those who sleep fewer than seven hours, especially teenagers, tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and snack more often on fast food and food high in carbohydrates, which can lead to undesired weight gain. It is known that we sleep better if we eat a bit of fatty fish (for example, herring, salmon or sardines), a green salad, 1–2 kiwi, a handful of cherries, almonds, or walnuts or drink a cup of herbal tea (chamomile, mint or melissa [balm/lemon balm]) in the evening.
Light physical activity is important. Daily exercises such as yoga or other type of exercises done for 30–60 minutes a day are quite useful and can became a source of fun and of course can be done at home during our isolation for quarantine. They improve not only our mood, but also strengthen our immunity.
It is very important to avoid stress, relax, and do things you love at home. Let go of anxiety. Let’s remember that being able to see beauty, kindness and surprises around you, even when you feel bad, can improve the functioning of the immune system, which is now very important to us all. If you feel like you need a snack, avoid fast carbs, sugar, and coffee. But try to refrain from unnecessary snacking and remember to eat regularly three times a day and not overeat. Some foods containing magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, tryptophan, B vitamins, and antioxidants can also reduce anxiety:
- dark green leafy vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain magnesium;
- beef and other meat, oysters, yogurt, legumes, pumpkin and sesame seeds, cashew nuts, and almonds are rich in zinc; zinc is also needed for white blood cells called leukocytes, which fight infections in the body;
- Omega 3 fatty acids are present in fatty fish (herring, salmon and sardines) or fish oil;
- fermented dairy products (kefir and yogurt) and fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, etc.) are probiotic-rich;
- turkey and other lean meats, eggs, legumes, and seeds contains tryptophan; by the way, dark chocolate promotes endorphin production and also contains flavanols and phenylethylamine, known as the “love drug” because it can be produced by a person in love; that is why eating it creates a good mood, but it is important to control yourself and limit the amount you eat;
- B vitamin product group: eggs, liver, meat, fish, legumes, whole grains, bread, and dairy products;
- various beans, fruits (apples, plums, cherries, citrus fruits, and other brightly coloured fruits), berries (strawberries, cranberries, blueberries and raspberries), nuts (walnuts, almonds, and brazil nuts), vegetables (artichokes, kale, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, and peppers), spices (especially turmeric and ginger) are rich in antioxidants.
Now, more than ever, the wish “be healthy” is near and dear to our hearts. Let’s be conscious, responsible and patient in the face of this virus that has engulfed the world. Let’s eat healthily and in moderation, protect ourselves and others, read more, share unexpected discoveries, tell stories, create, write letters of thanks, communicate virtually, be happy to see the people we love being healthy, and sing together without leaving home like the Italians. Let’s do all this in order not to feel alone and in order to remain necessary to one another!
picture author Doc. Lina Zabulienė.