My name is Harriet and this is my first article for Strive. I am 29 years old, and have an interest in cooking and healthy eating. With this in mind, I wanted to write an article about how eating healthily can effect and improve wellbeing and the science behind it. Here is what I found out.

If you sometimes feel depressed or experience changes in your mood on a regular basis, adjusting your diet can dramatically decrease or prevent these feelings. We all know about eating a balanced diet, but there are more subtle changes you can make to what you eat that can make a difference. If you find it difficult to sleep or suffer from these types of problems in general, a change in the diet may be able to help with this too.

Serotonin is the happy hormone in the body, and if there are low levels of this it can significantly increase sleep deficiency. There are several foods you can eat that increase the production of serotonin naturally, including fish. Salmon is particularly good because it contains omega-3 fatty acids which improve learning and memory. Try to consume fish twice a week if possible, because having it on a regular basis not only helps to raise the serotonin levels but will also make you feel better about yourself. Having a healthy gut and feeding it with good bacteria is also key to ensuring that feelings of depression are kept to a minimum. 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, so if it’s not being fed with good bacteria this can heighten feelings of sadness.

The gut is like your second brain, so if it isn’t functioning properly this will result in the brain performing slower. Many foods have good gut bacteria, so it is easier than you think to incorporate them as part of your daily diet. An excellent food to have is live yoghurt, because this contains lots of probiotics. Probiotics are live cultures that are full of good bacteria and keep food moving well through the digestive system. You can add yoghurt to breakfast cereal, or enjoy it as a snack. It is best to buy natural, sugar-free yoghurt as fruit yoghurt isn’t as healthy for the gut. Peas are another fantastic food that boost gut health, and can be eaten with almost any meal. For example, they can be added to casseroles or served with salads. Despite their small size, peas contain soluble and insoluble fibre which is good for keeping food moving through the digestive system. As well as being packed with probiotics, peas are also full of prebiotics, too. Prebiotics are the good bacteria and enzymes that probiotics need to feed on in order for the intestines and digestive system to work at their best. Prebiotics are also found in onion, garlic and broccoli. One meal that all these foods can be added to is spaghetti bolognese, as onion and garlic help to enhance the flavour and broccoli can be cooked alongside it.

You may not realise this, but eating the right foods can effect the health of your eyes as well, meaning avoidable sight loss could be prevented. It is important to eat green and brightly coloured fruit and vegetables regularly such as carrots and squash. These contain vitamin A which is essential for healthy vision. It also protects the surface of the eye and in some cases helps to prevent infections and serious eye conditions. A simple way to add carrot to your diet is to grate it into a salad: you can buy ready-grated carrot if this is easier. It makes a tasty soup too!

If you snack a lot, swap biscuits for walnuts or almonds because they don’t contain sugar or saturated fats. Eating a diet rich in saturated fat can increase the likelihood of developing cataracts or dry eyes later in life. One vegetable that is excellent for eating to maintain good eye health is kale. This is known as a super food because it contains so many minerals, vitamins and nutrients that are vital for a healthy diet. Among its benefits, kale has antioxidants which can’t be produced in the body, so need to be taken in through the food we consume. A great and different way to eat kale as part of a meal is to crisp it up by baking it in the oven for about twenty minutes. This completely changes the taste, and could make it sound more appealing if you think you might not like it. Crispy kale can be enjoyed as a side dish or alongside your normal meal. Fresh kale can also be served with foods such as pasta. If you’re a fan of bread, you might find that changing the type you eat can make a major difference to your energy levels and general wellbeing. You might not have heard of it before, but sourdough is a type of bread that doesn’t contain any yeast which means it is lighter on the stomach and easier to digest than regular bread. White and wholemeal sourdough is available to buy from supermarkets, and makes lovely toast to have at breakfast. Sourdough also has lots of fibre which helps to slow down the digestion and absorption of sugars and starches. It keeps you full for longer, meaning you feel less hungry and therefore don’t consume as many calories.

I hope this article has inspired you to eat more healthily, and make you aware of the small changes you can make to diet to improve your wellbeing. If you have any healthy eating ideas of your own, please share them!