Most people realise that what we eat can make us feel unhappy. But is the opposite true? Can eating so-called happy foods give us a lift?
In mulling over that puzzler I remember the first time I learned that turkey was a mood enhancer on account of its tryptophan content.
Tryptophan is an essential building block of proteins, being the starting point in the manufacture of serotonin, the brain happiness hormone.
Well, many more happy foods have emerged since turkey. But take each with a pinch of salt.
Let’s start with the much maligned carbs. Slow burning carbs such as fruit, veg and legumes keep your blood sugar and insulin levels stable through the day. They help you avoid sugar highs and lows which not only irritate the brain but make you feel irritable.
Plus, fruit and veg are stuffed with powerful antioxidants that mitigate against anxiety and stress. And carbs are essential for serotonin production.
Dark chocolate has been linked to reducing blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lowering blood pressure.
One study found that men who consumed dark chocolate and then had to undergo a stressful situation two hours later had significantly lower levels of stress hormones compared to the placebo group.
The “dose” seems to be 40 grams of dark chocolate, established in a US study as a formula for lowering stress in women. In the post-lunch dip you may find bananas dipped in chocolate will boost your afternoon mood.
Bananas too are rich in tryptophan.
Avocado could be popular because it’s packed with tyrosine, another amino acid involved in producing dopamine. Dopamine is the power behind the brain’s pleasure centre. It makes you feel rewarded and loved.
Avocados are a great source of folic acid, so are good for pregnant women, but they also help cut homocysteine levels, an amino acid linked to anxiety and depression. And that’s without the omega-3s which are said to help depression and anxiety.
This leads us to oily fish which is full of omega-3 fatty acids needed both for dopamine and serotonin synthesis.
Popeye ate spinach for strength, we should eat it to keep our spirits up. It’s packed with magnesium, zinc and folic acid, which help combat depression.
And apparently, just the smell of coconut can calm you down. Try using coconut oil in your bath and cream on your skin for that chilled out feeling.