If you've ever found bliss in a bite of chocolate or smiled when someone offered you a french fry, then you know food can make you happy. But recognizing the difference between a quick jolt of cookie-fueled joy and the positive effects of long-term nutrition for brain health is important. Researchers have studied how food can impact your mood and future cognitive function, and they are finding that what you eat does make a difference.
Here are a few snack foods that can boost your mood at work:
Almonds, Brazil Nuts and Walnuts
• Almonds are a good source of magnesium, a mineral that is abundant in nature and is crucial to many aspects of health. Magnesium plays a central role in just about every bodily process, from the synthesis of DNA to the metabolism of insulin. Low levels of this crucial mineral have been tied to an entire laundry list of chronic conditions like depression, Alzheimer's, PMS, diabetes and heart disease. Despite the widespread availability of magnesium in the diet, the World Health Organization has reported that less than 60 percent of adults in the United States are meeting the adequate intake values for magnesium.
• Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of the element selenium. The nutrient is key to one of the body's master antioxidants, glutathione peroxidase. Low selenium intake is linked to poorer moods including depression. Although the cause is unclear, researchers have some clues. The way the brain metabolizes selenium differs from other organs: When there's a deficiency of selenium, the brain retains this mineral to a greater extent---leading some researchers to believe that it plays an important role in the brain. One ounce---about 8 medium size brazil nuts---will get you over 500 micrograms, so take it easy and have just a few at a time.
• An ounce of walnuts---about 14 walnut halves---has four grams of protein (which fills you up and helps keep blood-sugar levels steady) and two grams of fiber (also helps fill you up). Walnuts also contain cell-protecting antioxidants and are low in carbohydrates, which means they won't cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. "Insulin spikes are a reason people's moods crap out, particularly in late afternoon," said Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and co-author of The Happiness Diet.
All nuts are calorie-rich so eat them in moderation---a handful once or twice a day.
Flaxseed and Yogurt
• The benefits of omega-3 oils aren't just found in salmon and other seafood. You can get their mood-boosting power by sprinkling a snack with flaxseed, one of the plant-based sources of omega-3s. It makes a popular topping for smoothies, cereal, and yogurt. Since these superseeds have hard shells, grind them in a blender or coffee grinder first so the nutrients can be absorbed into your system.
• Most major brands of yogurt contain the probiotic Lactobacillus bulgaricus and people who take probiotics see improvements in their perceived levels of stress and report a more positive mental outlook compared to people not taking probiotics. Avoid sugary yogurts (look for 10 grams of sugar or less in a 6 ounce serving).
• Coffee is practically a magic bean when it comes to mood lifting: The caffeine in coffee can boost mental focus and alertness and athletic performance. Coffee consumption may also protect against Type 2 diabetes and decrease the risk of depression. But the less you consume, the better it works. Coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine per cup. Limit consumption to about 300 mg of caffeine per day and consume it once a day, at the time you want to be most alert, says Madelyn Fernstrom, the TODAY Show's nutritionist. And avoid adding lots of sugar!
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