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Happy Meals

Bliss Out

  • Chocolate: The euphoria you feel when you eat it is real. Chocolate has a mild temporary stimulating effect owing to the emotional response it evokes (think velvety mouth-feel, decadent aroma, and all the good memories attached to it) as well as the bit of caffeine it has. Add to that its sugar content, which triggers the feel-good hormone serotonin, and the fat and phenylethylamine it contains, which lead to endorphin release, and it's no wonder experts say this sweet treat leads to "ultimate brain happiness." And just a square or so of dark chocolate a day can boost your health too, lowering both your blood pressure and your risk of stroke.
  • Walnuts: Turn to these nuts when you're feeling blue. The secret is in their high content of omega-3 essential fatty acids. In one study, people with lower levels of omega-3 in their blood were more likely to report symptoms of depression and a more negative outlook, whereas people with higher levels tended to be more agreeable. Meanwhile, an animal study at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, showed that omega-3 fatty acids and uridine — two substances that occur naturally in many foods, including walnuts and fish — may boost communication among neurons in key areas of the brain. The bottom line: Effects of omega-3s and uridine "were indistinguishable from standard antidepressant medications," says study author William Carlezon, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. Just a quarter of a cup of walnuts gives you nearly 95 percent of the DV of omega-3s.
  • Spinach: Okay, so veggies aren't necessarily the first thing you crave when you're in a funk. Stick with us: Spinach is rich in folate (or vitamin B9), which helps maintain normal levels of mood-boosting serotonin. A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that people who consumed the least folate were a whopping 67 percent more likely to suffer from depression than those who took in the most. Spinach is one of the best sources of folate there is, with 262 micrograms per cup. The recommended dietary allowance of folate is 400 micrograms daily, so add other folate-rich foods like asparagus, broccoli, and beans to your diet too.

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