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Are You Heart Hungry?

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Posted on by Miranda Bauer

Are You “Heart Hungry?”

According to dietician Jane Jakubczak at the University of Maryland, negative emotions cause 75% of overeating. Reasons for “emotional eating” include past trauma, chronic or short-term stress, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and low self esteem. A survey of 9,125 U.S. adults conducted by Dr. Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative showed people who are obese are 25% more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders. People who overeat for these reasons may find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. They overeat because they feel bad, and they feel bad because they overeat.

Our brains are hardwired for rewards. Taken to the extreme, it can cause addiction. Addictions don’t only involve drugs. People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors such as watching tv, using the internet, and even healthy behaviors like exercise. Sugar and fat trigger similar pathways and feelings as drugs. Some people get a more intense feeling after eating fat and sugar than others, more so when they are under stress or dealing with emotional trauma. Interestingly, Dr. Simon’s survey reported 25% of obese people are less likely to abuse other substances, such as alcohol and illegal drugs, than non-obese people. This enforces the likelihood that some people use food to cope.

If you are a “stress eater” try these 5 power foods to help improve your mood.

1.) Spinach

In addition to being a significant source of vitamins K, A and C (the greener, the better), spinach is an excellent source of folic acid (also called folate). This is a B vitamin sometimes used to treat depression. It causes a “feel-good” chemical, called serotonin to be released. To maximize the health benefits of spinach, cook it in 3 tablespoons of olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Because of the fat content of olive oil, using it to cook vegetables can make you feel more satisfied after a meal and actually helps the body absorb the valuable nutrients in vegetables.

Alternatives: You can also get folate from beans, lentils and broccoli (all of which you can cook in olive oil).

2.) Oatmeal

Processed carbohydrates (i.e. white bread) cause rapid changes in your blood sugar level, can result in mood swings. High fiber carbs like oatmeal stabilize blood sugar, and take a while to move through your system, making you feel full, longer.

Alternatives: Carbs in general make people feel good. Stick with whole grains for maximum health benefits.

3.) Salmon

Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D is important for your attitude. You can get this from getting direct exposure to the sun for 5-20 minutes daily. One of the best dietary sources for Vitamin D is salmon. Salmon also contains high levels of selenium, Vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids, all correlated to having a better mood and even improving memory.

4.) Bananas

The only fruit on this list, bananas contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which has a calming effect on the body. In fact, tryptophan is also present in turkey and is the compound that makes you feel tired after your Thanksgiving meal. Bananas also contain  magnesium, which further increase sleepiness, making them a great bedtime or midnight snack.

5.) Chocolate

Like spinach, eating chocolate releases serotonin. However, chocolate has an additional benefit. It promotes relaxation through the release of endorphins. Endorphins are “feel good” chemicals also produced after hard, aerobic exercise. Chocolate may improve blood flow to the heart and brain, thus improving concentration, due to the antioxidants it contains. Some studies show that people, especially women, feel guilty after eating chocolate, cancelling out natural mood boosting benefits of this food.

Tip: Some researchers say the best way to have a piece of chocolate is to enjoy the experience. Slowly crinkle the wrapper open and eat it slow, savoring the flavor and subsequent mood boost.

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