Mood foods and you

Ransom Riggs

As anyone who's ever seen me try to navigate a menu at an Indian restaurant can attest to, I have virtually no tolerance for spicy foods. For years I avoided them like the plague, until a few months ago when someone slipped a few serious Jalapenos onto a deli sandwich I was eating. As my eyes began to water and I gritted my teeth, waiting for the fire to die out, a friend said "Sure it hurts, but doesn't it feel good, too?" And through the pain, I realized he was right: something about that spiciness was tickling my brain. I had a heightened sense of awareness, a boosted mood and, all told, a sense of humor about the jalapeno trick I might not have had a few minutes prior. Suddenly I was hooked: hot peppers are mood food!

Naturally, I wanted to find other mood foods, and figure out how to maximize my brain power via the foods I eat. One thing I learned about food and mood a long time ago was that if I was ever feeling down, an unhealthy lunch of drive-thru burger and fries was an almost instant pick-me-up -- leading to an inevitable crash about 40 minutes later. So Wendy's was definitely off the mood food list. (It's easy to see how eating can become a cycle of addiction for the morbidly obese: you eat to feel better, but then you feel worse than before, the easiest cure for which is just a drive-thru away. Yikes.)

To help navigate the menu of mood foods, here are some tips:

"¢ Want to avoid the post-lunch snoozies? Stay alert with protein: five ounces of grilled chicken at lunch will promote the creation of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, which will help keep you sharp all afternoon.

Kill stress with foods rich in magnesium, like sesame seeds and spinach. They fight stress hormones and reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Fat-free carbs fight insomnia. Try eating your favorite fat-free carb-heavy snack (like popcorn) a half-hour before bed. It creates serotonin, which relaxes you -- but fat will slow the process.

Get happy with fish. According to Men's Health, "a study in Finland found that people who eat more fish are 31 percent less likely to suffer from depression." Grilled salmon or sushi are a great way to go (and if you have a family history of high cholesterol, like me, the Omega-3 oils in salmon will do your heart good, as well).

Remember the antioxidants ... or you might not remember anything. Your brain is an organ that needs lots of oxygen, so oxidants can really affect its function. Antioxidants like colorful fruits and vegetables help "pick off the free radicals that wear away at your memory."

Which mood foods help you?

Info source: Men's Health