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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Restaurants & Dining | June 2009 

Foods That Make You Feel Groovy
email this pageprint this pageemail usMarla Hoover - PVNN

Feeling kinda funky these days? Isn’t everyone? If so then perhaps we need to pay attention to what we feed our bodies so they will respond well to the added stress that just about everyone on the planet is under. As we all know a nutritious diet can counteract stress, bolster the immune system and lower blood pressure as well as make you feel good and look younger.

Feeling Groovy

Feeling calmer and less stressful can be achieved through diet in several ways. Complex Carbs, like oatmeal actually boost serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that acts both as a chemical messenger, a neurotransmitter that transmits nerve signals between nerve cells. Changes in serotonin levels in the brain can alter mood.

Low levels of serotonin will cause people to suffer from depression, sleep disorders, and various addictions. Some overweight people with low levels of serotonin feel almost compelled to eat more. Once they get their carbohydrate "fix," serotonin levels rise and they feel (temporarily) better again.

Nicotine also increases serotonin levels - a true form of self medication - Nicotine withdrawal has the opposite effect. This is one reason why people who quit smoking find that they rapidly gain weight. They're trying to get their serotonin "fix" from food instead of cigarettes. Bummer.

Interestingly, Dr. Albert Stunkard, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks that people with an almost uncontrollable urge to raid the fridge late at night are doing it to help themselves sleep by boosting serotonin levels.

If you've ever wondered why dieting affects your mood, low serotonin levels could be the explanation. The food you eat has the potential to raise or lower your serotonin levels. That's why the ingredients of a meal have such a powerful impact on the way you feel after you eat it. Other foods can reduce the levels of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol that can impact the body over time as well.

"Eating a heart healthy diet - high in fiber and low in saturated fat - is a great place to start to boost your mood. There isn’t any question about it," says Diane M. Becker MPH, ScD, director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Conversely, "a high-fat, high-glycemic load meal can make you physically feel dysfunction in your body. People who eat this type of meal tend to feel bad and sleepy afterwards," she says.

The Grooviest Foods

Note: During my research for this article, I found that a few foods kept coming up on every "feel good food list" they are the first six listed below.

SPINACH - Popeye never lets stress get the best of him – maybe it’s all the magnesium in his spinach. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol levels and tends to get depleted when we’re under pressure. Too little magnesium may trigger headaches and fatigue, compounding the effects of stress. One cup of spinach goes a long way toward replenishing magnesium stores. One serving of these leafy greens is loaded with fiber, calcium, and virtually your entire day's recommended dosage of beta carotene, a nutrient vital for immune-system health, good vision. If you can't stand spinach plain, Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., author of Diet Simple, suggests dropping it into burritos, pasta dishes and canned soup.

SALMON is densely stuffed with omega-3's. Dr. Oz says that omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important nutrients to keep your cerebral power lines strong. Research shows that Omega-3s actually slow cognitive decline, remove plaque from your arteries, and improve function of your neurotransmitters. The fatty acids in Salmon are thought to slow memory loss as you age and boost heart health by regulating heart rhythms and keeping arteries and veins supple and free of blockages. While saturated fats lead to obesity, the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish appear to correct and prevent obesity, according to a study published in Clinical Science. It is also an excellent source of protein. Besides helping stimulate your metabolism three to four times more than carbs or fat, protein is the absolute best food for helping fill you up, so you take in fewer calories and burn more. Several recent studies have also suggested that people have a lower risk of having symptoms of depression if they eat a lot of fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon.

BLUEBERRIES - Of all the fruit you can eat, blueberries may be the absolute best - blueberries pack more fiber, vitamins, and minerals per ounce than any other fruit in the produce aisle. Research in animals shows that blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries significantly improved both the learning capacity and motor skills of aging rats, making them mentally equivalent to much younger rats. The Agricultural Research Service funded a study that found antioxidant compounds (tannins and anthocyanins) in blueberries which reverse existing short-term memory losses. They are considered the ultimate immune-boosting food-rich in radical-fighting antioxidants. Free radicals, which increase in number as you get older, travel around your body damaging cells, promoting disease, and triggering signs of premature aging. Those same antioxidants that fight disease are also effective in helping keep connections between cells in your brain and nervous system healthy, ensuring clearer, quicker thinking and the best memory possible.

AVOCADOS - One of the best ways to reduce high blood pressure is to get enough potassium - and half an avocado has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. Avocados can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and enhance blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells. In addition, guacamole offers a nutritious alternative when stress has you craving a high-fat treat.

COMPLEX CARBS - Because all carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin, it is best to eat complex carbs which are digested more slowly and supply the brain with steady source of this feel good chemical. (White flour doesn't just rob you of fiber and protein; it also digests incredibly quickly in the body, giving you a rapid spike of energy-but one that comes crashing down just as fast. Over time, those spikes in insulin production wear on the body, damaging cells and promoting excess storage of fat. Remember the motto "No white food.")

Foods such as whole grain breakfast cereals, breads, pastas and oatmeal are best and also keep blood sugars balanced and a smoothly moving Gastrointestinal (GI) tract which will also keep you feeling well.

When it comes to eating breakfast in the morning, there's nothing better than a bowl of oatmeal to spike your energy levels and provide you with an hours-long supply of fuel. Oatmeal is also filled with stress-fighting and immunity-boosting zinc. It can also help promote weight loss and lower your risk of heart disease and is filled with high levels of soluble fiber that protect your heart and arteries by trapping and expelling cholesterol, dropping levels by up to 30 points or more in some cases. Stick with the big tub of instant oatmeal and add your own fruit and calorie-free sweeteners, if you need them.

ALMONDS are chock full of helpful vitamins. There’s vitamin E to bolster the immune system, plus a range of B vitamins, which may make the body more resilient during bouts of stress. Also high in protein, fiber, almonds are great for your heart, digestive system, and skin. Although they're also loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, some people avoid them because they're so calorie-dense. But that's a mistake. Gary Fraser, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Loma Linda University in California, studied folks who added two ounces of almonds to their diet on a regular basis. Turns out they had no significant weight change. "Since nuts are such a hard food, it appears that a significant amount of their calories are never absorbed into the body," he says.

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