Sunday, May 10, 2009

Foods that make you happy

Don't you sometimes wish there were a happy pill to spritz up your spirits when you're out of sorts? To make you laugh when you're grumpy? Or to warm your heart when you're about to bite someone's head off? Well, there are probably several things in your kitchen that could do the trick, and they taste a lot better than a pill. These foods tweak your brain in ways that help you feel happy.

A Little Dessert Sugar soothes us when we're stressed--or at least it calms down stressed-out rats, which are good models for stress in people. But before you race to the vending machine with a license to binge, know that a little sugar may soothe rattled nerves, but too much will backfire, playing moody havoc with your blood sugar. Here's how to get just enough:

  • A small slice of angel food cake with 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 2 Fig Newman cookies and a 6-ounce glass of juice
  • Fruit and Chocolate Fondue
    1 cup fresh strawberries
    1 peeled, sliced kiwi
    1/4 cup fat-free chocolate syrup
    >Dunk fruit into syrup, lean back, and smile.

Toast and Jam "Of course we crave bread and other carbohydrates when we're down!," laughs Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food and Mood. "Carbs raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which lifts our spirits." But think whole-wheat bread and other whole-grain carbs, because they also stabilize blood sugar levels--unlike refined grains (white bread, pasta, rice, and pretty much anything white). They send blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride, leaving you jittery, grumpy, and hungry. Get a happy serotonin boost from the following snacks:

  • Half a toasted whole-wheat English muffin or bagel with jam or honey
  • A small bowl of oatmeal with some dried cranberries and a bit of brown sugar
  • Comforting, creamy peach open-face sandwich
    2 Tbsp. fat-free cream cheese
    1 tsp. honey
    1 peach, peeled and chopped
    1 slice 100% whole-grain bread
    1/2 tsp. chopped walnuts
    >Blend cheese, honey, and chopped peaches; spread mixture on bread and sprinkle with nuts. Yum.

Yogurt and Eggs Numerous studies show that getting more of the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA in your diet makes you happier and smarter. Even people battling tough-to-treat depression feel as much as 50% better when they get lots of DHA. To keep your chin cheerfully up, aim for 200 mg of DHA a day. Mix and match DHA-fortified foods like these...

  • 1 container Rachel's Wickedly Delicious Yogurt (32 mg of DHA)
  • 1 Gold Circle Farm egg (150 mg)
  • 1 Oh Mama nutrition bar (115 mg)
  • 1 cup of Horizon Organic reduced-fat milk plus DHA (32 mg)
  • 18-oz. Odwalla Soy Smart drink (32 mg)

Popeye's Fave No wonder he was always in such a high-energy mood. Spinach is full of folate, a B vitamin that's a must for making feel-good serotonin. Like DHA, folate is potent enough to ease clinical depression, say researchers. If you're trying to stay on the sunny side of life, make chowing down Popeye-style a habit. To get plenty of this happy green (about two cups of cooked spinach is perfect)...

  • Add a 10-ounce packet of frozen, chopped spinach to soups, stews, and casseroles, homemade or not.
  • Use spinach instead of lettuce in sandwiches and wraps.
  • Whip steamed, chopped spinach into mashed potatoes.
  • Make a salad meal of it
    Pile your plate high with baby spinach leaves
    Top it off with a grilled chicken breast or broiled salmon fillet (another great DHA source, BTW)

Black Bean Dip Black beans, like most legumes, are a nifty source of iron. And if you're low on iron--as many active women are--you can be tired and have trouble sleeping, turning you into Major Grouch. Here's how to help keep your iron levels, and your mood, up:

  • Mix black beans with chopped spinach, roasted red peppers, and salsa as a dip for a toasted whole-wheat tortilla.
  • Heat black beans with onions, garlic, and cumin, and serve over brown rice.
  • Toss black beans and turkey cubes into a salad (the "heme" iron in poultry and meat helps you absorb more of the "non-heme" iron in beans).
  • Add extra black beans to chili and soups.

Two quick tips for iron intake: To help your body absorb max amounts of this mineral, do combine iron-rich foods with foods that are high in vitamin C (tomatoes, broccoli, red peppers, OJ). But don't wash them down with coffee, tea, or milk; all three can block iron absorption.

Happy foods have another big, big payoff besides brightening your outlook on life: Taking care of your emotional health and well-being can make your real age up to 16 (!) years younger.


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