Jennifer House, dietitian and owner of Calgary-based First Step Nutrition, tells us what feel good foods are, how to incorporate more into your diet and how to avoid foods that could make you feel lousy.
What are feel good foods?
According to House, feel good foods are foods that make you feel relaxed and comforted. "Some foods affect brain neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which can affect your mood," she says. "Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that increases calmness and relaxation. Serotonin is temporarily increased in the brain after eating carbohydrates."
Huge meals, House says, can decrease alertness and can make us sleepy. "This is not due to the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, but more about the serotonin-producing carbohydrates and the large amount of food consumed. More blood is taken from the brain and sent to the stomach to digest the food," she explains.
One of the best ways to naturally produce feel good endorphins is exercise. But House says some foods can achieve a similar feeling. "Spicy food also can stimulate endorphin release," she says. "This is because capsaicin - the active chemical in red chili peppers - stimulated endorphins. The spicier, the better!"
"Dopamine and norepinephrine are two other neurotransmitters that can be altered by food," says House. These are responsible for energy and alertness, and protein can cause their release. "Good protein sources include meat, fish, nuts, eggs and milk products."
Folate and vitamin B12
According to House, studies have shown that low blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 are sometimes related to depression. To combat this, she recommends:
• Good mood foods rich in folate: fortified whole grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black eyes peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges.
• Good mood foods rich in vitamin B12: shellfish, wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, low-fat dairy and eggs.
Page 1 of 2 - find out what foods you should avoid on page 2.
Foods to avoid
"Sugar causes quick increases in blood sugar and energy, followed by fast decreases in blood sugar," says House. "This leaves us feeling sapped of energy."
Avoid white grains, pop, and candy for a quick energy boost. Opt for some protein like a boiled egg, nuts or yogurt.
Want to feel great all day? House offers up these sample meal ideas to remind you to choose foods that will keep you smiling.
• Breakfast: Foods high in soluble fibre like oats, apples and pears help to slow down the absorption of sugar in your blood, possibly leading to a more stable mood.
• Snacks: Try something protein-based like eggs, nuts and yogurt, along with a piece of fruit. Protein will help slow down the absorption of fruit sugar in your blood, and will release small amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine to make you feel more alert.
• Lunch: Have some salmon for protein, vitamin B12 and omega 3. The B12 and omega 3 may be linked to preventing depression. Add leafy greens, such a spinach, for a boost of heart-healthy folate.
• Dinner: A higher carbohydrate meal in the evening may help you to sleep better at night. Add brown pasta, rice or whole grain rolls to your dinner.
• Dessert: Enjoy a bit of dark chocolate to increase endorphins.
Check out our menu of mood-boosting foods here.
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Natalie Bahadur is the senior editor of styleathome.com and is a regular contributor to CanadianLiving.com.