In laymen's terms we call it comfort food, those delectable edibles that can turn a sad day into a glad day by providing us a respite, even a brief one, when things otherwise aren't going our way. Chocolate, for instance. Who in a moment of stress or anxiety hasn't craved a big bowl of chocolate ice cream or a sinful piece of chocolate cake with the frosting dripping off your fork? Even a chocolate bar will do in a pinch.
Good thinking! Actually, a plain chocolate bar, especially one made from dark chocolate, isn't such a bad idea for a needed mood swing. Science, and good taste, are on our side. According to Woman'sDay, a recent Swiss study found that a 1.4-ounce piece of dark chocolate can lower the levels of cortisol and catecholamines – stress hormones – in our body. That reduces feelings of anxiety, giving us a chance to bounce back from going a couple of rounds with an angry boss or whoever.
Many types of foods can put a proverbial Band-aide on our brain chemistry, putting us on the right kind of edge on life when moments earlier you felt yourself going over the edge. A leafy-green spinach salad, for instance. Because it is rich in folic acid, aka folate, ingested spinach can assist your body in processing and lowering homocysteine levels, which "are associated with damage to blood vessels, in addition to interfering with the flow of blood and nutrients to the brain. Impaired blood flow may leave you feeling sluggish or slow to process or recall information," says Joanna Dolgoff, MD, author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, quoted at womansday.com.
Foods abundant in folate, such as beans, peas and potatoes, in addition to spinach, can help get your motor running again, both in terms of your body and your brain.
Not long ago you could elicit a chuckle out of nutritionists and other health care professionals by linking moods to foods. You might as well have been discussing space aliens or quantum physics. No one's laughing now (unless, of course, that dark chocolate fix is working too well). Food's effects on mood has carved out a new niche of culinary science. Researchers are finding more ways in which dietary adjustments can bring about changes in our brains (chemically and physiologically, says webmd.com). In turn, these can lead to altered behavior, many for the better, fortunately.
Consider the popular "Mediterranean diet," with its emphasis on fish, legumes, cereals, vegetables, fruits and nuts – all of which supply nutrients associated with the prevention of depression. How about some mussels to exercise your mental muscles? According to a 2012 article posted at rodalesorganiclife.com, mussels are loaded with vitamin B12, which plays a key role in maintaining the myelin sheath that insulates brain cells.
Need a boost of energy? Get some magnesium into your body, with Swiss chard, a leafy green that is a good source. Do you want get happy? Greek yogurt's abundance of calcium is reportedly useful in enticing your body to release feel-good neurotransmitters.
What else? Glad you asked. If you're feeling "cranky," Woman'sDay advises to eat an apple with peanut butter; apparently, the combo of a carbohydrate with either protein or fat has you firing on all cylinders for hours. Anxious? Eat a salmon burger: the omega-3 fatty acids appear to help reduce anger and irritability, says The Depression Cure author Dr. Stephen Ilardi. Angry? Sip green tea. Got PMS, ladies? Chow down on an egg-salad sandwich, those carbs right for boosting serotonin levels, which in turn aid in enhancing your mood.
Foods to avoid? Renowned natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola cites three: sugar, gluten and processed foods. "Whether you need a quick pick-me-up or you've been struggling with poor mood for a while, the best place to turn your mood around is likely not in your medicine cabinet but right in your pantry or refrigerator," Dr. Mercola says.