Kick Start Your Day With These 11 Mood-Lifting Foods
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”
- Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story
We’ve heard the expression “you are what you eat.” When it’s crunch time, we tend to engage in all sorts of unhealthy habits that further increase our stress levels. That pizza? Bad idea. If your anxiety is spiraling out of control, food should be your ally, not your enemy. So if you find yourself cranky, tired and even clinically depressed, try these 11 mood-boosting foods.
Your brain needs an amino acid called tryptophan in order to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter nicknamed the brain’s Prozac, thanks to its happy-making and calming effect. Prozac works by conserving the brain’s serotonin, but tryptophan helps you make more of your own. Milk also contains antioxidants that help destroy free radicals associated with stress. Have some skim milk with your cereal for breakfast or pour yourself a tall, cold glass and use it as an excuse to scarf down a few chocolate chip cookies.
Chocolate contains a host of chemicals to brighten your mood, including anadamine, a neurotransmitter that targets the same parts of the brain as THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. But chocolate contains such minuscule levels of anadamide, you’d need to eat kilos of it in order to make any impact on the amount that’s circulating in the brain naturally. So, why does chocolate give us the buzz it does? Scientists believe other chemicals in chocolate cause anadamide to hang around in the brain for longer, enhancing its stimulant effect. The sweet stuff also boosts our levels of endorphins, the brain’s natural happy hormones.
3. WHOLE-GRAIN RICE OR PASTA
It’s a good thing carbohydrates are finally back in style now that everyone has realized those low-carb diets were a bunch of hooey. Eating carbohydrates boosts serotonin levels (thus have a calming, soothing effect), and slow-release ‘complex’ carbs keep you sustained, helping you to stay mellow and preventing between-meals rattiness. While all carbs will give you this kick, stick to whole-grain bread, rice and pasta. Simple carbs like white bread and pastries will only give you a momentary boost followed by a crash, and they will make you pack on the kilos. On the other hand, whole grains (complex carbs) are digested more slowly and will thus keep you feeling fuller — and conceivably happier — for a longer period of time.
A study in Finland found that people who eat more fish are 31 percent less likely to suffer from depression. Oily fish like mackerel are the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help prevent the blues. They boost serotonin levels and also enhance your brain’s receptiveness to the neurotransmitter. High-dose omega-3 supplements can even help patients suffering from clinical depression. Most types of fish are also replete with all-important B vitamins, particularly the renowned stress fighters B6 and B12. In fact, B12 is one of the most important vitamins involved in the synthesis of the “happy” brain chemical serotonin.
Yet another food that is chock-full of stress-relieving B vitamins, broccoli has the added benefit of containing folate (folic acid), which is also part of the B vitamin family. And since low levels of folate have been linked to depression in many studies, including research following thousands of people in Finland and California, it stands to reason that if you keep your folate levels up, you’re less likely to be down in the dumps.
Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug. It boosts metabolism and energy levels, making you feel more alert by interfering with the action of drowse-inducing adenosine in the brain. It also manipulates the same channels in the brain as amphetamines, activating the brain’s pleasure centers. There recently was a study from Brazil finding that people who drink coffee with milk each day are less likely to have depression. On the flip side, it’s clear that coffee isn’t for everyone. Its legendary jolt in excess doses — that is, more than whatever your individual body can tolerate — can increase nervousness, hand trembling, and cause rapid heartbeat.
Turkey is high in phenylalanine, an amino acid which the brain converts to dopamine, a neurochemical that elevates mood and motivation and prevents depression. A study published in a German psychiatry journal showed that phenylalanine was as effective as an antidepressant drug. As well as turkey, phenylalanine is found in most protein foods, so eat them when you want to feel sharper. The addition of protein to a meal will also help slow the absorption of carbohydrate in the blood. This can help leave you feeling upbeat and productive for hours after eating.
Liver is one of the richest sources of vitamin B6, which you need to convert the phenylalanine from the protein you’re eating to mood-enhancing dopamine and buzzy adrenaline. If you don’t get enough vitamin B6, you’ll probably feel low, and stress depletes your levels further. If the thought of liver doesn’t exactly boost your mood, get your vitamin B6 from brown rice or other whole grains.
These little blue miracle workers are jam-packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which are potent stress busters. Because your brain consumes so much oxygen, oxidants do heavy damage there, and those antioxidants will help pick off the free radicals that wear away at your memory. As an added bonus, they’re low in calories, so they won’t make you blimp-like. Blueberries are also a good source of fiber, which can help relieve the cramps and constipation that can occur in times of stress.
10. BRAZIL NUTS
Brazil nuts are the number one source of the mineral selenium, which helps maintain your mood and prevent depression. Although scientists haven’t figured out exactly how, it seems that selenium is essential for maintaining a happy mood — it’s so important that when the body’s stock is being run down, the brain is the last organ to give up its stash. These crunchy little dudes are also packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. B vitamins and magnesium are involved in the production of serotonin, which helps regulate mood and relieve stress. Zinc has also been shown to fight some of the negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease.
11. ANY FOOD THAT TASTES GOOD!
Eating food that tastes good stimulates the production of endorphins — the painkilling peptides that bind to the brain’s opioid receptors, triggering the same kind of reaction as opiate drugs such as the painkiller codeine, and heroin. So eat the things you enjoy for a natural — and legal — high!
Now take a deep breath, chill out and go make yourself a snack.
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