Thrive

Unlocking secrets to happiness and longevity from cultures around the globe

Are You Heart Hungry?

Here are five foods you can eat to improve your mood.

According to dietician Jane Jakubczak at the University of Maryland, negative emotions cause 75 percent of overeating. Reasons for “emotional eating” include past trauma, chronic or short-term stress, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and low self esteem. A survey of 9,125 U.S. adults conducted by Dr. Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative showed people who are obese are 25 percent more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders. People who overeat for these reasons may find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. They overeat because they feel bad, and they feel bad because they overeat.

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Our brains are hardwired for rewards. Taken to the extreme, it can cause addiction. Addictions don’t only involve drugs. People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors such as watching TV, using the Internet, and even healthy behaviors like exercise. Sugar and fat trigger similar pathways and feelings as drugs. Some people get a more intense feeling after eating fat and sugar than others, more so when they are under stress or dealing with emotional trauma. Interestingly, Dr. Simon’s survey reported 25 percent of obese people as less likely to abuse other substances, such as alcohol and illegal drugs, than non-obese people. This enforces the likelihood that some people use food as their coping mechanism.

If you are a “stress eater” try these five power foods to help improve your mood.

1.) Spinach-In addition to being a significant source of vitamins K, A and C (the greener, the greater), spinach is an excellent source of folic acid (also called folate). This is a B vitamin sometimes used to treat depression. It causes a “feel-good” chemical, called serotonin to be released. To maximize the health benefits of spinach, cook it in three tablespoons of olive oil for five to eight minutes. Because of the fat content of olive oil, using it to cook vegetables can make you feel more satisfied after a meal and actually helps the body absorb the valuable nutrients vegetables contain.

Alternatives: You can also get folate from beans, lentils and broccoli (all of which you can cook in olive oil).

2.) Oatmeal-Unlike processed carbohydrates (i.e. white bread), which causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate (and your mood with it), oatmeal stabilizes blood sugar. It’s also high in fiber and takes a while to move through your system, making you feel full, longer.

Alternatives: Carbs in general make people feel good. Stick with whole grains for maximum benefit.

3.) Salmon-Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D is important for your attitude. You can get this from getting direct exposure to the sun for 5-20 minutes daily (or according to some sources, weekly). One of the best dietary sources for Vitamin D is salmon. Salmon also contains high levels of selenium, Vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids, also correlated to having a better mood (and memory).

4.) Bananas-The only fruit on this list, bananas contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which is the compound present in turkey that makes you tired after your Thanksgiving meal. Added to its high levels of magnesium, which also increase sleepiness, it’s a great bedtime or midnight snack.

Alternatives: Although not the best for a bedtime snack, turkey also contains high levels of tryptophan and magnesium

5.) Chocolate-Eating chocolate releases serotonin, just like the first four foods. However, chocolate also promotes relaxation through the release of endorphins, also produced after hard, aerobic exercise. Chocolate may also improve concentration due to the I usuallyantioxidants it contains; Flavenoids improve blood flow to the heart and brain!

Tip: Some researchers say the best way to have a piece of chocolate is to enjoy the experience. Slowly crinkle the wrapper open and eat it slow, savoring the flavor and subsequent mood boost.

Dan Buettner is a researcher, explorer, and bestselling author who studies happiness and longevity.

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