It’s almost spring. Almost. At least, that’s what you repeat to yourself as you shiver on frigid early March mornings. If you’re feeling stressed out by the “it’s still winter?” blues, you may be resisting the urge to turn to comfort food to soothe your problems. But before you throw away that macaroni and cheese that’s calling your name, listen to this: Certain comforting foods have compounds that can make you feel happier on a molecular level. That’s right: It’s not just the flavor of buttery mashed potatoes that makes you smile — it’s the chemical composition, too. Check out these six foods that’ll make your tongue and body feel better, helping you shake off that winter gloom.
Potatoes power up feel-good serotonin.
You’ve probably noticed that you feel calmer and more content after digging into a yummy baked potato or plate of home fries. And researchers may have figured out why: Potatoes boast rich stores of tryptophan and potassium — nutrients your brain and digestive tract use to produce the mood-steadying hormone serotonin. Tip: Keeping the skins on your spuds will give you the biggest potassium boost.
Seafood activates ‘happy’ brain chemicals.
Fish and seafood are loaded with vitamin B-12, a key building block of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that keeps moods sunny even when the end-of-winter weather is damp and glum and you’re cooped up indoors. Researchers at the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology say getting enough vitamin B-12 may help prevent the onset of depression, so go grill up some fish — you won’t regret it.
Cheese elevates bliss hormone levels.
Cheese adds an ooey goodness to many of our favorite foods, and it comes with an added perk: Its unique combination of dairy fats and protein may boost the production of a hormone (norepinephrine) that fosters an energetic, can-do attitude. A new study suggests regular consumption of high-fat dairy like cheese may even be associated with a lower risk of depression.
Popcorn maximizes blood-sugar control.
Enjoying two daily servings of 100 percent whole grains like popcorn may help you feel calmer and happier, suggests research in the European Journal of Nutrition. And because popcorn is full of healthy fiber and antioxidants, your body will feel happier too. The butter-covered microwave version is more convenient, but heavier in calories and unhealthy additives — instead, try this simple paper bag hack to get healthy, fresh popcorn in minutes.
Nutmeg thwarts free radicals.
Enjoying ¼ teaspoon nutmeg daily (in oatmeal, cocoa, on sweet potatoes, or more) may help prevent winter blahs, suggests an animal study mentioned in Molecules. Nutmeg’s plant compounds and antioxidants can also promote relaxation and boost brain health.
Carrots calm adrenal glands.
They add a fun pop of color to any plate, and eating 1 cup of carrots daily may reduce tension, edginess, and anxiety, suggests a University of Georgia study. Experts say the plant pigments that give carrots their deep orange hue (carotenoids) tamp down the adrenal glands’ release of the troublesome stress hormone cortisol.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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