Our brains are hardwired for rewards. Taken to the extreme, it can cause addiction. People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviours such as watching TV, using the internet, and even healthy behaviours 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 obese people are 25% 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 to cope.
If you are a “stress eater,” then try these 5 power foods to help improve your mood.
In addition to being a significant source of vitamins K, A and C (the greener, the better), 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.
Alternatives: You can also get folate from beans, lentils and broccoli.
Researchers at the MIT Clinical Research Center have found that when you stop eating carbohydrates, your brain stops regulating serotonin, the chemical that improves your mood and suppresses your appetite. However, highly processed carbohydrates (i.e. white bread) cause rapid changes in your blood sugar levels and can result in mood swings. High fibre carbs like oatmeal stabilize blood sugar, and take 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 health benefits.
Getting your daily dose of vitamin D is important for your attitude. Low vitamin D levels are linked to depression and other mood disorders. You can get this from getting direct exposure to the sun for 5-20 minutes daily. In Australia, we are best to do this before 9.00am or after 3.00pm when the damaging UV rays are less intense.
For dietary sources of Vitamin D: Almond milk, oatmeal, fortified tofu, orange juice, wild salmon, canned fish.
The only fruit on this list, bananas contain an amino acid called tryptophan. Your body uses tryptophan to produce 5-HTP, the compound that makes serotonin and melatonin, two mood and sleep-regulating neurotransmitters. Bananas also contain magnesium, which further increases sleepiness, making them a great bedtime or midnight snack.
Like spinach, eating chocolate releases serotonin. However, chocolate has an additional benefit. It promotes relaxation through the release of endorphins. Endorphins are “feel good” chemicals also produced after hard, aerobic exercise. Chocolate may improve blood flow to the heart and brain, thus improving concentration, due to the antioxidants it contains. Dark chocolate is the best choice with many additional health benefits compared with milk chocolate.
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 slowly, savouring the flavour and subsequent mood boost.