Food nourishes our bodies and yes, it makes us happy! Just watch any toddler enjoying his favorite meal! A few weeks ago, I shared supper with my one-year old grandson. We had different responses to the same meal. I noticed it smelled good, I was grateful my daughter prepared it, and I was enjoying the time and conversation with her and our family. He, though, threw his head back and belly laughed when he saw his supper placed before him, readily accepted a meatball from the fork his mom held, wiggled his shoulders and hips in unison in sheer joy, and began eating the rest of the meal happily by himself, smiling with every bite. He’s always happy when it is time to eat. I suddenly realized, so am I!
What is it about food that makes us happy? Is it just that it fills our bellies and satisfies that need of hunger, or is it more? It’s more.
The nutrients B-12, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and antioxidants all help to regulate mood, appetite, and digestion and other functions; for example, grains such as oatmeal, brown rice; varieties of fish like salmon and tuna; nuts; oils; dairy items, including eggs and cheeses; and fruits like bananas, pineapple, grapefruit; and vegetables which include broccoli, corn, and leafy greens; beans or legumes; are all good sources of these. Dark chocolate, which is certainly one of my favorites, raises endorphin levels, which helps to enhance mood.
As we age, we may find that absorbing the nutrients from our foods have become more difficult than in our younger years. Discuss with your physician or dietician before introducing it, but you may consider a probiotic to help with digestion.
It is interesting to me that toddlers seem to have instinctually mastered this eating bit. If you’ve spent much time around them you know that to trying to get them to put off a meal or a snack immediately turns them into something resembling a melting bread sack on a hot stove. Our bodies respond best to a schedule or routine to help maintain steady blood sugar levels, ultimately helping to regulate moods.
Toddlers do not seem to want to eat alone either, because when left that way, they act out, tossing bits of food, or repeatedly dropping the sippy cup on the floor to draw us back in. That has to be it, right? They are wanting someone to share their time with them while they enjoy their meal.
Research has shown that there are many health benefits of eating with others versus eating alone. Sharing conversation, laughter, or telling stories, increases a sense of overall well-being. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reported a positive association between social connection and a healthy diet on telomere length, which is a marker associated with a rate of aging.
People who eat most of their meals alone may be at greater risk for heart disease, and diabetes. Some of this may be due to having someone holding us accountable for the foods we are eating, but it may also be related to the stress-reducing benefits of being around others we enjoy. In other words—eating with others rather than alone is not only more fun, it may help you live longer!
As a culture, we focus so much of our socialization around mealtimes. We gather as families at the breakfast table and discuss our plans for the day, maybe even share our crazy dreams we had the night before; we look forward to going to lunch with co-workers and having that time to build relationships; and in the evenings, we come together again as families and friends to share meals. We do that at the Senior Community Center, as well. We serve lunch daily at various locations throughout Daviess County so that seniors can gather and enjoy meals together rather than remaining at home alone. The social benefits are certainly a factor, but there are proven health benefits as well.
We should all wiggle a little when our food is good, and I personally think we should all throw our heads back and belly laugh from the sheer joy of it!