Monday, June 08, 2009

Foods to Help You Feel Better

6 ways to add mood-boosting foods to your diet.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Are you feeling down in the dumps? Are you irritated at how often you’ve been irritable?

Perhaps it’s time to look at the foods and drinks you consume to see if they are trashing your mood. Nutrition experts say that the foods you eat can help you feel better -- or feel worse -- in the short-term and the long-term.

Meal-to-meal and day-to-day, keeping your blood sugars steady and your gastrointestinal (GI) tract running smoothly will help you feel good and energetic. If your blood sugars are on a roller-coaster ride -- hitting highs and lows from too much sugar and refined flour – you are more likely to feel out of sorts. This is also true if your gastrointestinal system is distressed due to intense hunger from a fad diet or constipation because you aren’t getting enough fiber and water.
Week-to-week and month-to-month, keeping your body healthy and disease-free makes good moods more likely. For example, key nutrients you get in certain foods can influence the levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin. Other nutrients can help prevent inflammation so blood circulates well to all of your organs.
“Eating a heart healthy diet -- high in fiber and low in saturated fat -- is a great place to start to boost your mood. There isn’t any question about it, says Diane M. Becker MPH, ScD, director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Conversely, “a high-fat, high-glycemic load meal can make you physically feel dysfunction in your body. People who eat this type of meal tend to feel bad and sleepy afterwards,” she says.

6 Tips for Foods and Beverages That Help You Feel Good
1. Seek out foods rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid (folate).
What’s special about chili made with kidney beans and lean beef? Or a light chicken Caesar salad made with skinless chicken breast and romaine lettuce? Or grilled salmon with a side of broccoli?

All these dishes feature one food that is rich in folic acid (folate) and another that is rich in vitamin B12. These two vitamins appear to help prevent disorders of the central nervous system, mood disorders, and dementias, says Edward Reynolds, MD, at the Institute of Epileptology, King’s College, London.

The link between higher food intakes of folate and a lower prevalence of depressive symptoms crosses cultures, too. A recent study confirmed this association in Japanese men.

Folic acid is usually found in beans and greens. Vitamin B12 is found in meats, fish, poultry, and dairy.

Other dishes that feature B-12 and folic acid-rich foods include:

A burrito or enchilada made with black beans plus beef, chicken, or pork
A spinach salad topped with crab or salmon
An egg white or egg substitute omelet filled with sauteed spinach and reduced-fat cheese

2. Enjoy fruits and vegetables in a big way.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with key nutrients and antioxidant phytochemicals, which directly contribute to your health and health-related quality of life.

In a one study, eating two more servings of fruits and vegetables a day was associated with an 11% higher likelihood of good functional health. People who ate the highest amount of fruits and vegetables felt better about their health.

3. Eat selenium-rich foods every day.
Selenium is a mineral that acts like an antioxidant in the body. What do antioxidants have to do with feeling better and minimizing bad moods? Research suggests that the presence of oxidative stress in the brain is associated with some cases of mild to moderate depression in the elderly population.

One study evaluated the depression scores of elderly people whose daily diet was either supplemented with 200 micrograms of selenium a day or a placebo. Although more research is needed to confirm the findings, the group taking selenium had higher amounts of selenium circulating in their blood and significant decreases in their depression symptoms.

Try to get at least the recommended daily allowance for selenium: 55 micrograms a day for men and women.

Whole grains are an excellent source of selenium. By eating several servings a day of whole grains such as oatmeal, whole-grain bread, and brown rice, you can easily get 70 micrograms of selenium. Other foods rich in selenium include:

Beans and legumes
Lean meat (lean pork or beef, skinless chicken or turkey)
Low-fat dairy foods
Nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts)
Seafood (oysters, clams, crab, sardines, and fish)

4. Eat fish several times a week.
Several recent studies have suggested that men and women have a lower risk of having symptoms of depression if they eat a lot of fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3s from fish seem to have positive effects on clinically defined mood swings such as postpartum depression, says Jay Whelan, PhD, head of the department of nutrition at the University of Tennessee.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

Rainbow trout

5. Get a daily dose of vitamin D.
Does a little time in the sun seem to make you feel better? The sun’s rays allow our bodies to synthesize and regulate vitamin D.

Four recent studies showed an association between low serum levels of vitamin D and higher incidences of four mood disorders: PMS, seasonal affective disorder, nonspecified mood disorder, and major depressive disorder.

Researcher Pamela K. Murphy, PhD, at the Medical University of South Carolina says people can help manage their moods by getting at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D a day.

That’s significantly more than the RDA for vitamin D, which is 200 IU for adults under 50, 400 IU for ages 51 to 70, and 600 IU for people over 70.

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. So she recommends we get vitamin D from a variety of sources: short periods of sun exposure, vitamin D supplements, and foods.

Vitamin D can be found in:

Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
Beef liver
Egg yolks
But our primary source of dietary vitamin D is fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, breads, juices, and milk.

6. Treat Yourself to 1 oz of Chocolate
“Small amounts of dark chocolate can be a physical upper,” says Becker at Johns Hopkins. “Dark chocolate has an effect on the levels of brain endorphins,” those feel-good chemicals that our bodies produce. Not only that, but dark chocolate also seems to have a heart-healthy anti-clogging effect in our blood vessels.

In one study from the Netherlands, Dutch men who ate 1/3 of a chocolate bar each day had lower levels of blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease. The chocolate also boosted their general sense of well-being.

How Foods and Beverages May Make You Feel Bad
Just as some foods can help you feel better, others can make you feel down. Here are ways to reduce the harmful effects of three foods that can drag you down.

1. Reduce foods high in saturated fat.
Saturated fat is well known for its role in promoting heart disease and some types of cancer. Now researchers suspect saturated fat also play a role in depression.

The link was found in a study called the Coronary Health Improvement Project, which followed 348 people between the 24 and 81. A decrease in saturated fat over a six-week period was associated with a decrease in depression.

2. Limit alcohol carefully.
That “feel-good” drink, alcohol, is actually a depressant. In small doses, alcohol can produce a temporary feeling of euphoria. But the truth is that alcohol is a chemical depressant to the human brain and affects all nerve cells.

Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, people can go quickly from feeling relaxed to experiencing exaggerated emotions and impaired coordination.

It’s no coincidence that depressive disorders often co-occur with substance abuse, and one of the main forms of substance abuse in this country is alcohol.

3. Don’t go crazy with caffeine.
Caffeine can increase irritability a couple of ways.

If the caffeine you consume later in the day disrupts your nighttime sleeping, you are likely to be cranky and exhausted until you get a good night’s rest.
Caffeine can also bring on a burst or two of energy, often ending with a spiral into fatigue.
Some people are more sensitive than others to the troublesome effects of caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, decrease the amount of coffee, tea, and sodas you drink to see if this helps uplift your mood and energy level, particularly in the latter part of the day.

Analysis: Obama woes no match for other presidents

AP Diplomatic Writer
It felt, the new president told reporters the day after he took office, "like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me."

President Barack Obama's lament about the financial, international and domestic crises bearing down on him? Wrong time, wrong president.

The speaker was Harry S. Truman, telling White House reporters in 1945 about the overwhelming and lonesome responsibility confronting a new president. His remarks said it all.

He had succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt after FDR's death that year and immediately faced monumental decisions: how to end World War II; whether to order the atomic bombing of Japan, which would save American lives but kill tens of thousands of Japanese civilians; and how to build a peaceful world, including feeding the same German nation that had caused so much of the world's misery.

Immense challenges have confronted Obama, too, early in his presidency.

The economic meltdown was tough enough by itself. But there's no time to catch his breath; too many other matters require his attention.

Guantanamo detainees. Health care. North Korea's nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program. The Israelis and the Palestinians.

"This fellow was dealt an incredibly difficult hand, both foreign and domestic," said Stephen P. Hess, senior follow at the Brookings Institution. "But maybe if you compare him to Lincoln or to FDR, it is not such a mountain to climb."

History shows that other presidents have taken on bigger challenges, according to Hess and other presidential scholars.

"On the scale of being confronted with truly major problems on taking office, I think I would have to put it in the top 10 percent," Hess said. "Lincoln took over on the verge of a civil war that was going to divide the country. Americans were slaughtering Americans. Roosevelt faced the worst depression the United States ever had."

Roosevelt did not have a big foreign policy problem early on, said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

Obama's economic test has been severe. Banks teetered, homes foreclosed, stocks plunged and millions lost their jobs. But for Roosevelt, the economy literally collapsed.

Troubles at the outset of a presidency also roiled the incoming administration of a president often compared with Obama, John F. Kennedy.

Taking office in 1961, Kennedy inherited a bungled plan to train and support Cuban exiles to invade their homeland. The plan was aimed at inspiring Cubans to rise against Communist leader Fidel Castro, who was drawing on support from the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs invasion and much of what followed, including an air attack of CIA planes from Nicaragua, ended as a colossal failure. The invasion was crushed. Kennedy was embarrassed.

But his administration did not cease economic and other operations against Cuba. This led up to the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

"We were at the brink of nuclear war. I don't think we are at the brink of war with the North Koreans," said G. Calvin Mackenzie, professor of government at Colby College.

So perhaps it's best for now to call Obama's trials daunting, but not overwhelming.

The financial markets and home starts are showing signs of life. North Korea is the foreign conundrum of the moment. But even Iran and Cuba, which seemed equally intransigent in recent years, have shown small signs they may be willing to come out of their diplomatic shells.

Is there daylight ahead for the new president?


EDITOR'S NOTE — Barry Schweid has covered diplomacy for The Associated Press since 1973.

Reproductive rights are civil rights

The murder of Dr. George Tiller, who provided medical care for women seeking abortions, was an act of domestic terrorism because it was meant to threaten and intimidate women who seek safe and legal abortions, their families, and the healthcare professionals who assist them.

Tiller's murder created yet another touchstone for an issue that has received new urgency since President Obama's recent commencement speech at Notre Dame and the nomination of pro-choice Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet, amazingly, in the days after the attack, I am struck by how few black voices have stepped into the storm to condemn anti-choice violence and rhetoric. That's unfortunate, because being pro-choice shouldn't be just a white feminist thing. It's a black thing, too.

Reproductive rights are civil rights, and we only have to look at the numbers to see how we are disproportionately affected by race, class and gender inequality. For instance, Black women have abortions at three times the rate of white women. Our rates of infant mortality are nearly double than for white newborns. Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women. Reproductive justice means closing those gaps through the advocacy of healthy reproductive options for black women, including the right to safe abortion.

I know the fear of walking into a women's clinic with friends and as a patient myself, and I know the anguish of terminating a pregnancy. These sorrows can be minimized by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in our communities. However, the answer does not lie in the racialized rhetoric of sexual respectability. You know the argument that demonizes unmarried black mothers as promiscuous and simply tells women to "close their legs." Let's be clear about the hypocrisy perpetrated in the name of sexual respectability. Those who would condemn black and brown women for out-of-wedlock sex celebrate Bristol Palin with a cover story in People magazine. No disrespect to young Bristol, but it has never been the case that this nation championed the life choices of a black teenage mother because she chose to keep her child rather than have an abortion.

The politics of pregnancy, birth and motherhood have racial implications, and the more we engage these complexities the more effective we will be in addressing the realities of our sexual and reproductive lives. What we need is real sex education, not abstinence-only programs for young people, and easy access to multiple forms of contraception, including the increased availability and affordability of the morning-after pill. Our community leaders and religious leaders should fight for reproductive justice by advocating these solutions, because "close your legs" is not choice, it is not activism, and it is not justice.

One my heroes, Fannie Lou Hamer, joined the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi after suffering at the hands of a "Mississippi appendectomy," a euphemism for the practice of state-sanctioned sterilization that was forced on women of color throughout the 20th century. Her outrage over this abuse was critical to her development as an activist, and for her, civil rights included the right to control her fertility.

For black women, choice has meant protection from sterilizations and court-ordered birth control enforcement. Choice has also meant access to superior prenatal health care, safe housing and nutrition that would allow us to raise healthy, happy children if we desire. And, in many cases, it has also meant the choice to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Too often, the mainstream pro-choice movement sidelines our multiple ideas about choice, which may contribute to our relative silence when abortion rights are violently threatened. Even so, we must not be deterred. Faye Wattleton understood this, and as the first black woman to head Planned Parenthood, she brought our interests to prominence and risked her life doing it. Members of groups like Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective understand this, and they organize with groups of women to fight for reproductive health and sexual rights.

Our desire for real choice must continue to include our vocal support for abortion rights. If we stand up and tell our stories, join forces with others, express our outrage at Dr. Tiller's murder and share our support for pro-choice jurists, Black women can redefine the meaning of reproductive justice.