Mood food

We've heard the expression "you are what you eat". When it's crunch time, we tend to engage in all sorts of unhealthy habits that further increase our stress levels. That burger? Bad idea. If your anxiety is spiralling out of control, food should be your ally, not your enemy. So if you find yourself cranky, tired or overworked, try these nine mood-boosting foods.

Your brain needs an amino acid called tryptophan in order to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter nicknamed the brain's "Happy Pill", thanks to its happy-making and calming effect. "Happy Pill" works by conserving the brain's serotonin, but tryptophan helps you make more of your own. Milk also contains antioxidants that help destroy free radicals associated with stress. Have some skim milk with your cereal for breakfast or pour yourself a tall, cold glass and use it as an excuse to overindulge on chocolate chip cookies.

Whole-grain rice of pasta
It's a good thing carbohydrates are finally back in style now that everyone has realised those low-carb diets made no sense. Eating carbohydrates boosts serotonin levels (thus have a calming, soothing effect), and slow-release "complex" carbs keep you sustained, helping you to stay mellow and preventing between-meals rattiness.

While all carbs will give you this kick, stick to whole-grain bread, rice and pasta. Simple carbs like white bread and pastries will only give you a momentary boost followed by a crash, and they will make you pack on the kilos. On the other hand, whole grains (complex carbs) are digested more slowly and will thus keep you feeling fuller and conceivably happier for a longer period of time.

Oily fish like mackerel is the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which helps to prevent the blues. They boost serotonin levels and also enhance your brain's receptiveness to the neurotransmitter. High-dose omega-3 supplements can even help patients suffering from clinical depression. Most types of fish are also replete with all-important B vitamins, particularly the renowned stress fighters B6 and B12. In fact, B12 is one of the most important vitamins involved in the synthesis of the "happy" brain chemical serotonin.

Yet another food that is chock-full of stress-relieving B vitamins, broccoli has the added benefit of containing folate (folic acid), which is also part of the B vitamin family. And since low levels of folate have been linked to depression in many studies, including research following thousands of people in Finland and California, it stands to reason that if you keep your folate levels up, you’re less likely to be down in the dumps.

Turkey meat is high in phenylalanine, an amino acid which the brain converts to dopamine, a neurochemical that elevates mood and motivation. As well as turkey, phenylalanine is found in most protein foods, so eat them when you want to feel "sharper". The addition of protein to a meal will also help slow the absorption of carbohydrate in the blood. This can help leave you feeling upbeat and productive for hours after eating.

Liver is one of the richest sources of vitamin B6, which you need to convert the phenylalanine from the protein you're eating to mood-enhancing dopamine and "buzzy" adrenaline. If you don't get enough vitamin B6, you'll probably feel low, and stress depletes your levels further. If the thought of liver doesn't exactly boost your mood, get your vitamin B6 from brown rice or other whole grains.

These little blue miracle workers are jam-packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which are potent stress-busters. Because your brain needs so much oxygen, oxidants do heavy damage there, and those antioxidants will help pick off the free radicals that can affect your memory. As an added bonus, blueberries are low in calories, so they won't make you pick up weight. Blueberries are also a good source of fibre, which can help relieve the cramps and constipation that can occur in times of stress.

Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are the number one source of the mineral selenium, which helps maintain your mood and keeps depression at bay. Although scientists haven't figured out exactly how, it seems that selenium is essential for maintaining a happy mood - it's so important that when the body's stock is being run down, the brain is the last organ to give up its stash.

These crunchy little dudes are also packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. B vitamins and magnesium are involved in the production of serotonin, which helps regulate mood and relieve stress. Zinc has also been shown to fight some of the negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease.

Any food that tastes good
Eating food that tastes good stimulates the production of endorphins - the painkilling peptides that bind to the brain's opioid receptors, triggering the same kind of reaction as opiate drugs. So eat the things you enjoy for a natural (and legal) high!

Now take a deep breath, chill out and go make yourself a snack.

(Ronald Abvajee, MYPERSONALTRAINER, distributed on behalf of Pfizer)

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