Happiness with Happy Foods

October 14, 2008

Have you ever found yourself reaching for food when you’re tired, stressed, sad, or bored? You may have recently if you turn on the news or think about our nation’s economy.

Well, it turns out this may not be such a bad habit (as long as you’re not overindulging or eating mindlessly) because certain foods may have positive mood enhancing effects. J

Complex Carbohydrates: Foods such as oatmeal, brown rice, high fiber cereal, potatoes, and fruit contain complex carbs that help to raise levels of serotonin (good-mood chemical) which give a calm and relaxed feeling.

Fats: Vegetable fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats) increase endorphin levels. Olive oil, almonds, and avocados are all excellent choices to improve your sense of well-being. Research has even linked very low fat diets with an increase in depressive symptoms.

Proteins: High protein foods (such as poultry, fish, eggs, and lean meats) stimulate dopamine and norepinephrine production, which can improve cognitive function (i.e. your ability to handle complex mental problems).

In addition, turkey and chicken are good sources of tryptophan, which convert into serotonin (the good-mood enhancing chemical).

Omega-3’s– EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been associated with less depressive symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the basic building blocks of the brain and are needed for healthy brains and nervous systems. Good sources include walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, halibut, and other seafood.

Folate, Vitamin B6, and Zinc– These vitamins/minerals are needed to make serotonin. Spinach is one of the best sources of folate and zinc. Banana’s are one of the richest sources of Vitamin B6.

Chocolate– There is actual evidence that proves chocolate is an aphrodisiac. The combination of sugar (which triggers serotonin), fat, and a substance called phenylethylamine (which leads to endorphin release) contribute to chocolate’s “happy-feeling”.

You can also help to keep your moods on an even keel by keeping your blood sugar levels steady (since fluctuating blood sugar effects mood): Avoid skipping meals, choose balanced meals and foods that are high in fiber.

So next time, you’re feeling “moody”, try a handful of almonds or walnuts, a slice of avocado, a banana, or a bowl of oatmeal or high fiber cereal. And, DON’T go for the fried foods, donuts, cookies, or other high fat, high sugar foods (will only make you feel good temporarily).

For the ultimate mood-enhancing meal, try:

a piece of baked salmon

1 cup of brown rice,

1 cup of steamed spinach,

and a piece of dark chocolate (for dessert).

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