When we think about what nourishes us, most of us can rattle off a list of macro and micronutrients, minerals and maybe a few superfoods. But while worrying about whether we’re getting enough of vitamins A, B and C (plus the rest!), we often forget about vitamin P.
That’s P for pleasure. The abstract, personal-but-universally desired feeling of happiness, satisfaction and gratification that we all chase. Because pleasure can boost so much more than our moods—it also has a powerful effect on our immunity, metabolism and even our skin.
In their book Feeling Good Is Good For You, researchers Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan explain the measurable connection between pleasure and the immune system, arguing that it promotes good health, helps protect us from disease and is the best antidote to stress. All the more reason to find small yet significant daily joy rides: taking a dip in the ocean, cozying up on the couch, enjoying a healthy sex life, getting in a workout—you do you!
Similarly, when it comes to food, the ancient Ayurvedic system of medicine advises against eating when unhappy, angry or distracted. As studies show—and anyone who has felt unfulfilled by a sad desk salad can attest—eating too fast, conducting a heated debate during a meal or consuming our food without awareness are all barriers to healthy digestion.
And it’s not just how we eat, but what we eat. As nutritional psychologist and author of The Slow Down Diet Marc David explains, the appearance and taste of our food also has positive effects on our metabolism, with pleasure flicking the same switch in our brains that turns on relaxation, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Similarly, keeping our gut microbes happy can also have a profound impact on our capacity for pleasure. That’s because 90 percent of our mood-boosting hormone serotonin Is produced in our gut. Another neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps reduce stress and improves sleep, is produced by beneficial bacteria.
As outlined by Harvard Medical School, consuming probiotic-rich, lacto-fermented wholefoods may be beneficial in helping to ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Eating more fibre from plant food and less meat will also keep your gut microbes—and thus us—happy, too.
Of course, it can be hard to enjoy our food while worrying about what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. But healthy and pleasurable don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms when it comes to the kitchen. Think: these gut-friendly sweet potato fries, Swedish meatballs and a super-comforting rhubarb and pear cobbler you won’t want to miss.
Are you getting enough vitamin P? If not, how are you hoping to increase your daily dose?