Mood Foods

Managing the connection between what we eat and how we feel

People have known for centuries about certain foods that can affect your mood. The most famous example is apple pie. Is there anyone who doesn’t take comfort in a warm piece of apple pie?

Scientific research has proven that there are specific chemical reasons why some foods make us feel good and why we crave them. Chocolate, for instance, elicits a strong sensory response in most people. It contains a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which is a cannabinoid chemical that affects certain receptors in the brain and creates a calm, pleasurable feeling. In fact, if you were to eat more than 20 pounds of chocolate, you would get a high similar to that obtained from a marijuana joint.

Some foods affect our moods not because of the chemicals in them but simply because we are conditioned to associate them with feelings from our past. For example, you might crave peanut butter cookies when you are lonely because that’s what your mom used to make you whenever you were feeling down.

What to Eat and When

Are you feeling tired or sluggish? Protein- and iron-rich foods, such as meat and fish, can make you more alert and increase your energy. Magnesium has also been tied to concentration, so don’t skimp on the bananas.

Conversely, high-carbohydrate foods like bread and pasta stimulate the body so that it releases insulin into the bloodstream. This causes a temporary increase in serotonin levels in the blood, which gives us a pleasant, calm feeling. So if you need to be alert for a long, tough class, avoid starchy foods beforehand and eat a grilled chicken breast and salad instead. Don’t avoid carbs all the time, though. They are a vital part of a balanced diet (and avoiding them causes an increased desire for alcohol, which, believe it or not, isn’t always a good thing).

Stress and depression may be due to a deficiency of B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, niacin and folic acids). Try eating some dark, leafy veggies (like spinach), avocado or dairy if you need a pick-me-up. If you want to reduce your anxiety, chow down on some selenium-rich foods like nuts and grains.

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