By Dr. Willie T. Ong (Internist-Cardiologist)
You’ve had a bad day. You’re feeling cranky and lonely. What do you do? Aside from finding ways to fix your problem, try these comfort foods to make you happy. The secret is in choosing foods loaded with omega 3 fats, folic acid, selenium and vitamin B12. These nutrients can lift your mood, so let’s check them out:
Milk, preferably skim milk
Milk products are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid our brain needs in order to make serotonin. Serotonin is a natural chemical that makes us happy and calm. Anti-depressants work in a similar way by conserving the brain’s serotonin. Milk also contains antioxidants, vitamin D and vitamin B12, which help fight stress and aging. Have some skim milk everyday. It’ll make you happier and the calcium content is good for your bones, too.
Who needs an excuse to eat chocolate? Not me. Chocolate contains anadamine, a brain chemical that helps brighten our mood. Scientists believe that other chemicals in chocolate cause anadamine to stay longer in the brain, thus enhancing its positive effect. The sugar in chocolate also boosts our levels of endorphins, another hormone that makes us happy. Don’t eat too much though, or you’ll gain weight.
Rice, bread, noodles or pasta
Here’s our favorite comfort food – carbohydrates. Don’t believe all those low-carb diets, they can actually make you crabby and gloomy. Eating carbohydrates can increase our serotonin levels, which has a calming effect. To prevent sudden jumps in your blood sugar, choose healthier carbohydrates like brown rice, wheat bread and vegetables. These good carbos are digested more slowly and makes you fuller and possibly happier for a longer time.
Oily fishes like sardines, salmon and mackerel
Oily fishes are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which can lift our mood. A study in Finland shows that people who eat more fish are less likely to be depressed. High doses of omega-3 may even be used to treat clinical depression. Most fishes are also packed with vitamin B6 and B12, which are involved in the production of serotonin. As an alternative, you can try omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 rich foods will not only make you happier, but they’re good for the heart and brain, too.
Bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin. And we know that serotonin is a hormone that makes us cheerful. Bananas contain carbohydrates as well to boost our energy. Its high potassium content also prevents cramps so it’s good for exercising individuals. Experts believe that bananas are one of the world’s healthiest fruits. So take two bananas a day if you want to keep the doctor away.
Broccoli is another amazing food that is full of vitamin B’s, the vitamins that help fight stress. Studies show that folate or folic acid in broccoli can help improve our temperament. Aside from lifting our spirits, broccoli is a potent anticancer food, proven in laboratory studies to inhibit cancer cells.
It’s Popeye’s favorite food! If you want to be full of zest like Popeye, it pays to eat your spinach. Like broccoli, spinach is jampacked with folic acid, an important B vitamin for making serotonin. It’s about time we teach our kids about this incredible vegetable. Eat a cup of cooked spinach to obtain approximately 250 micrograms of folic acid. This amount is enough to make you feel like Popeye, full of energy to face the day.
Blueberries are abundant in antioxidants and vitamin C, which are known stress busters. Antioxidants help remove toxins (called free radicals) that circulate in the body. These free radicals damage our organs and cause us to age faster, that’s why we need to remove them. Blueberries are also loaded with fiber, which is good for the digestion. Some studies show that blueberries and strawberries may prevent cancer by removing these free radicals.
Beans and Soybeans
Beans are packed in soluble fiber, folic acid and omega 3 fats, the three ingredients known to improve our mood. It is an excellent sources of iron and calcium, which can increase our red blood cells, and are good for the bones. Moreover, soy contains genistein, a weak estrogen-like substance, which may help prevent prostate cancer and some types of breast cancer. If you like soy milk and taho, they’re good for you, too.
Nuts are nutritional powerfoods, packed in protein, minerals (selenium) and omega-3 fats. It is also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant to fight stress. Locally, we have nilagang mani (boiled peanuts) and cashew nuts. Aside from lifting our moods, nuts are considered as “brain food” because of their high content of omega-3 fats, which helps improve the blood flow in our brains. Take an ounce of nuts everyday. But don’t eat too much because nuts are salty and high in uric acid.
A study from Brazil shows that people who drink coffee with milk every day are less likely to have depression. Caffeine is probably the world’s most popular mood-enhancing drug. But it has its pros and cons. Coffee boosts our energy levels, makes you feel more alert and can improve your memory. A single cup of coffee with milk in the morning can jumpstart your day. However, too much coffee can also wreck your disposition, cause heart palpitation, and make it difficult for you to sleep. A cup or two a day is okay. Small doses of caffeine can improve your mood but too much coffee can be bad for your health as well.
Finally, any food you crave for can be considered your own personal comfort food. Eating anything delicious stimulates the production of endorphins, making us happy. Endorphins can reduce pain sensation too and it’s like the brain’s natural painkiller.
Now, I hope you are feeling better. Just remember to take these foods in moderation. Good luck!