Gooey Swedish meatballs. Spicy peppermint bark. Rum-drenched fruit cake. Over the past few months, these might have been some of the foods that, well, made you feel good. Their annual appearance at office parties and holiday open-house buffets generally ties these foods to good moods.
But now that it’s 2011 and we’ve sworn in our healthy eating plans, what foods can make us happy? Are there foods that can boost our moods? That’s what I asked Gina Sunderland, a Winnipeg-based registered dietician and Natalie Brown, an RD in White Rock, BC, and here’s what they said.
* Oatmeal. “This is a great source of soluble fibre which keeps blood sugars stable by slowing down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This reduces irritability and hunger,” says Brown. “Whole grains also increase the production of the chemical in our bodies called serotonin which also elevates mood.”
* Nuts. Don’t toss that bowl of walnuts leftover from the holidays quite yet because both walnuts and soy nuts are thick with Omega 3s. “These fatty acids might increase the volume of gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotions,” says Sunderland. Can’t eat nuts? Get your Omega 3s from other foods such as fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies and herring or oils such as flaxseed or canola.
* Dark chocolate. Yay! And yum. “This chocolate contains chemicals that produce the serotonin to relax, lower your anxiety and improve your mood,” says Brown. That said, it doesn’t mean you and a dark Hersey bar should get cozy nightly—think a square or two, rather than wolfing down an entire bar.
* Oranges and strawberries. Tis the season to eat citrus because oranges and its fruit stand neighbour, strawberries, are both rich with folate. “Folate may help to improve mood by preventing an excess of the amino acid homocysteine from forming in the body,” says Sunderland. “This is important because homocysteine prevents blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain, and interferes with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—all regulators of mood, sleep, and appetite.” Folate can also be found in foods such as leafy greens, peas, potatoes, whole-wheat bread and egg yolks.
* Milk. This cookie sidekick contains calcium and tryptophan. “And calcium reduces levels of stress and anxiety and tryptophan produces serotonin to elevate mood,” notes Brown.