Everyone who has worked an 8 to 5 job has probably endured the three o’clock crash. Office vending machines often offer sugary snacks that only create a short-term energy boost. Really the blood-sugar fall that comes after not only makes you feel draggy, but can cause irritability, depression, and other mood swings that negatively affect your performance. Drew Ramsey, MD, co-author of The Happiness Diet maintains that food choices we make every day influence the brain’s ability to grow and heal. Dr. Ramsey cites a large study done for Harvard School of Public Health that found women who drink 2 cups of coffee regularly had a 15% lower risk of depression than those who didn’t drink any coffee. The risk decreased by 20% when they drank 4 cups a day. He says it’s because caffeine triggers a release of dopamine in the brain which sharpens, focuses and improves your outlook. But don’t drink coffee to the point of jitters. And space your cups of coffee throughout the day.
So what makes us happier than having a satisfying fatty snack? Not much claims Mary Morreale, MD and psychiatrist at Wayne State University. Fat digests slowly and calms the blood sugar. Of course not all fats are created equal. Studies that compared mood disorders in several countries found that where residents consumed 3 seafood meals per week and took in high omega-3 fatty acids had much lower rates of depression and other emotional disorders than residents who ate lower levels of omega-3 foods. These fats are said to help the function in areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotion. If you’re a meat-eater, choose grass-fed beef, chicken and pork over corn-fed. Or make your afternoon snack half an avocado or a quarter cup of walnuts.
Judith Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet and former director of MIT’s Clinical Research Center in Women’s Health thinks carbs are crucial. She says the 3 or 4 o’clock mood slump can be warded off with ¾ cup of Cheerios. Because that’s a small caloric price to pay for feeling good. Green tea plus a caramel rice cracker offers similar results as do a few baby carrots dipped in hummus. Susan Bowerman, RD purports that carrots to humans are like a rawhide bone to a dog. Chewing is a stress reliever. And the crunch of carrots also satisfies a sweet craving, while hummus is salty and provides carbs, all equaling a hit of afternoon happiness. Susan, who is the assistant director of UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition believes a bliss trip needs tryptophan. While it used to be that people thought tryptophan made you sleepy, new studies show it may more likely be the key to calm and happiness. Serotonin, a necessary amino acid that the body can’t produce on its own, needs tryptophan. Poultry, beef, eggs and nuts supply some. She suggests having turkey in a whole wheat wrap, or a slice of whole grain toast, or a few graham crackers midday which will cause the body to release insulin and in turn boost the amount of tryptophan.
Back to Dr. Ramsey of the Happiness Diet—he says spinach in your salad will give your lunch a brain-friendly shot. By trading romaine lettuce for spinach which gives more B vitamins, your afternoons will be freer of fuzzy-thinking. (Hey, I’m all for that)
The last bit of mood-enhancing data I found comes from Paul Bosland, PhD and horticulturalist at New Mexico State University. His studies have been in using spices to make you a nicer, less depressed person. Curcumin, a staple in Indian curries and present in turmeric has natural anti-depressant properties. Like serotonin and dopamine, adding turmeric to stir-fry, soup or chicken will give you a brighter outlook. As well he recommends liberal use of black pepper, preferably fresh-ground, plus chili peppers, both will release feel-good endorphin receptors in the mouth.
So, all of the above suggestions I think are easy changes to implement if they indeed lift the afternoon spirits, improve the mood, and help make a person happier. Can anyone give testimonials to these diet tips, or other easy ones you’d care to share?