Foods that make you happy

(Photo: Getty Images)(Photo: Getty Images)By Sarah B. Weir

Think "happy foods," and sugary treats such as candy, cake, and cookies often come to mind. Not only do these foods taste good but, for most people, they also have positive psychological associations with fun occasions, such as a birthday party or a holiday celebration.

Loading up on sugar and highly processed carbohydrates (like products made from white flour) does provide a quick energy spike, because sugars and refined carbs are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. Unfortunately, that high is usually followed by a crash leaving one even more moody and fatigued.

The good news is there are many healthy and delicious choices that do boost one's mood while also providing sustained energy.


Oatmeal

Complex carbohydrates such as those found in oatmeal boost serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that contributes to the regulation of mood, appetite and sleep. Oatmeal and other whole grains also contain the B vitamins thiamin and folate as well as zinc, all of which are believed to help improve mood in people suffering from depression. Added bonus: The carbohydrates derived from whole grains are slowly released into the bloodstream to provide hours of energy.

Other sources: Whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice.


Turkey

Turkey contains high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid necessary for serotonin production. It's a common myth that the tryptophan in turkey knocks you out after a big Thanksgiving dinner -- in fact, the drowsiness is more likely to be a function of plain, old over indulgence.

Other sources: Eggs, chicken, beef, pork, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds.


Spinach

Low levels of folate have been linked to depression. Spinach is a great source of this beneficial B vitamin.

Other sources: Lentils, Swiss chard, black beans, asparagus.


Salmon

According to a University of Pittsburgh study, people who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids had a greater volume of grey matter in areas of the brain associated with the regulation of emotions. They concluded that this could explain their role as a feel-good fat. The body cannot produce its own omega-3s (which also help to prevent heart disease, reduce inflammation, guard against stroke and offer other health benefits), so grill up a piece of salmon for your daily dose.

Other sources: Sardines, mackerel, eggs, flaxseeds.


Strawberries

Strawberries are packed with antioxidants, substances that are great for the brain and can boost mood and memory. Antioxidants are micronutrients that battle the free radicals that cause cell damage in the body. The Mayo Clinic recommends that that we get them from food, not supplements.

Other sources: Blueberries, cranberries, prunes, pinto beans.


Chocolate

Dark chocolate is another antioxidant powerhouse. Okay, so most of us don't need an excuse to eat it, but here are some reasons not to feel guilty about your fix: Not only does chocolate contain antioxidants, it also stimulates endorphins (the body's own natural pain killers) and boosts serotonin. Chocolate is high in fat and sugar, but, luckily, you only need to eat about a half an ounce a day to get the benefits.


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