Let's kick off 2010 with some powerful foods that lift your spirits and nix the post-holiday blues.
Certain foods trigger the body to produce mood-elevating chemicals. High levels of endorphins in the brain give a euphoric bliss. Endorphins also stave off the aging process — another reason why they'll make you happy.
Hot peppers or chilies contain capsicin that give the veggie its kick, which also stimulates the nervous wiring in the mouth, sending the signal to the brain to release endorphins producing a temporary high. Hey, could be why chips and salsa are so addictive!
Chocolate, the most-beloved endorphin-producing food, considered by the ancient Greeks as "food of the gods," contains 300 substances including anandamide that mocks marijuana's mellow effect on the noggin. Bittersweet is best, especially with cocoa content over 70 percent, while the flavonoids also give this caviar of the sweets an antioxidant boon.
Low levels of serotonin are also linked to anxiety and mood disorders. You can raise those levels by eating foods containing tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted into serotonin by the body. Some tryptophan powerhouse foods are mung beans, turkey, lobster, asparagus, sunflower seeds, spinach, tofu and pineapple. By accompanying high tryptophan foods with carbs, you're packing a double punch by increasing the body's absorption of the substance. That's why you feel so tranquilized after a Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potato feast.
They call me Mellow Yellow
Bananas, which are loaded with potassium and magnesium, reduce stress and have been found to be soporific, providing some well-needed zzz's for the sleep-deprived. Legumes and wheat germ are also good magnesium sources along with walnuts — the Brazilian variety also providing the trace mineral selenium to the body, making for a calm disposition.
Comfort foods revisited
When you chow down on some nostalgic childhood favs such as mac and cheese, meatloaf and pecan pie, these release both endorphins and serotonins into the nervous system, giving you a feel-good feeling. These traditional high-fatty, sugary comfort foods can be revamped to be healthful and just as comforting. Create a turkey meatloaf, which also contains a good dose of tryptophan; roasted garlic and pureed celery root mashed potatoes; whole-grain macaroni with low-fat mozzarella cheese; and apple pie with whole-grain flour and agave syrup instead of sugar.
A cup of calm
A steamy infusion of herbal tea always seems to warm the cockles of your heart, especially chamomile and other nighttime soothers, but some have been found to actually stave off depression.
Licorice is supposedly a powerful antidepressant containing at least eight compounds called monoamine oxidase inhibitors that fight the blues. One word of warning: Up to three cups of licorice tea a day is safe. However, long-term use or excessive amounts can cause such adverse effects as headache, tiredness and high blood pressure. So standing advice: moderation.
St. John's Wort has had a solid reputation as a folk remedy for relieving sadness and melancholy. In particular, recent research has shown that the flower from this herb contains such active compounds as hyperforin and flavonoids that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in the brain.