Healthy Food: Create good mood food

Ever get a day when nothing is going right? The kids are fighting. The pool turned green. Gas went up 15 cents. The peanut butter is gone. After all that, you might be thinking, “If I just had some chocolate.” Or a glass of wine. Or a big plate of mashed potatoes. What we eat can change how we feel—or—how we feel can determine what we eat.

Comfort foods vary with people. Some like a carton of ice cream and a spoon. A handful of M&Ms. A half a box of truffles. You seldom hear anyone wax poetic about a bowl of mashed carrots now, do you? Decadent is delightful when you need a pick-me-up.

But something good for you can be just as uplifting as the sugar shock… and last longer too. Dark chocolate helps. It might not be news but there is some science behind the notion that eating dark chocolate (1.4 ounces, to be exact) every day for two weeks reduces stress hormones. The study was done at the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland. Experts say it could be because of the antioxidants in the chocolate.

Carbohydrates aren’t the darlings of the diet set, but experts believe they can raise our moods because carbohydrates promote production of serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical.

You can’t go wrong with whole fruits and vegetables. An English study found that folks who ate plenty of whole fruits and vegetables felt less depressed than another group who ate lots of desserts, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products. Sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t it?

Fish has Omega-3s, which is a key mood-boosting nutrient our body doesn’t make. Oily, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and rainbow trout have plenty so make sure you eat some even if you feel so down you don’t want to eat anything at all. According to, “Omega-3s alter brain chemicals linked with mood—specifically dopamine and serotonin.  (Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, aggression, and suicidal tendencies, while dopamine is a ‘reward’ chemical that the brain releases in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or having sex.)”  Please keep the cake and pass the salmon.

Here’s one you can’t afford too often: Saffron. Studies have found that the expensive spice can have the same effect as Prozac® and Tofranil®.

“Let’s sit down and have a nice cuppa tea, love.” This phrase is a Briticism you might hear on old English movies. Black, green or oolong tea with caffeine could pep up the old brain, says a study in The Journal of Nutrition, because theanine, an amino acid in these teas, works with caffeine to improve attention and focus. You need five to six 8-ounce cups a day—and a direct path to the bathroom.

It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with a healthy, happy, and tasty diet with the variety of mood-boosting foods. Make some brown rice as the carbohydrate component and, while it cooks, steam some carrot coins and bite-size pieces of green beans.  When they are cooked, mix them together with a pinch or two of saffron. Now toss in a little cooked salmon.

Risotto is a winner. Cook short or medium grain rice in chicken stock, adding the stock a little at a time as the rice absorbs it, until the rice is almost done. Now toss in a good handful of frozen peas brought to room temperature and let the peas cook as the rice finishes. Stir in a cup or so of shredded Parmesan cheese at the last minute. It should be creamy.  For a one-dish meal, add some medium shrimp with the peas and cook about four minutes or until they are just done.

Crack an Indian cookbook or borrow one from the library. You will find all sorts of delicious meals with whole grains and vegetables.

Gently sweat a chopped onion and some garlic in butter for a few minutes. Add a spoonful of curry powder and let it fry a minute or two.  Now toss in a couple of potatoes cut in half-inch cubes and some salt and pepper. Cook the potatoes, tossing, until they get a little brown on the edges, about five minutes or so. Add enough yogurt to make it saucy with more curry powder if you can take the heat. Cook until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is a little thick. Serve with basmati rice and whole wheat tortillas.

Smile all the way to dessert.


article by TRENT ROWE

Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Health News.

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