Not only does what we put into our bodies have physical effects like weight gain or building muscle mass, but it also has emotional effects that can either elevate or sink our moods. Basically, all foods are broken down into their chemical properties by our digestive systems to feed our cells, and can either raise or lower blood pressure. Here are the top mood-boosting foods to make you feel good every day:
Dark, leafy greens
Spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, kale and other leafy greens contain folate, which is needed by the brain to make serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine – the so-called "mood chemicals." Research has shown that a boost of folate can improve the mood. Also, leafy greens are bountiful with magnesium, a nutrient that can increase our energy levels and possibly stave off or reduce depression.
These shellfish have the highest naturally occurring levels of vitamin B12 of any food on earth. Many people are B12-deficient because this essential vitamin for brain health is only found in a small number of foods. But vitamin B12 is important for producing myelin, which protects the brain's neurons. Mussels also have iodine, zinc and selenium, which might be good for balancing your mood. Aside from eating these healthy mollusks, do an extra dose of good by choosing farmed mussels raised in the U.S. to ensure they're a good environmental decision too.
Salmon is an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are critical in both heart and brain health and can reduce the chance of depression. You can also find omega-3s in flaxseed, walnuts, sardines and olive oil, and milk, eggs and other foods are sometimes fortified with these important fatty acids.
Sure, you've heard that turkey has tryptophan, which can make you sleepy. But asparagus is one of the vegetables with the highest dose of tryptophan, which is very important for its role in serotonin creation. Serotonin is one of the main mood-regulators in the brain. Asparagus also has high levels of folate, which can improve the mood. An extra bonus: The enzymes in asparagus are good at breaking down alcohol in your system and preventing a hangover.
Sugar can be very damaging to the body because of its harmful free radicals, which are linked to various diseases. But honey makes an excellent substitute to flavor your tea or oatmeal with. It has quercetin and kaempferol – compounds that can banish free radicals and reduce inflammation. Much research has shown that inflammation is likely detrimental to brain health and may lead to depression in some instances. Honey could be a good food to potentially have an impact on brain health.
Other diet tips
Aside from enjoying these foods to boost your mood, there are foods you should avoid and eating rules you should follow to improve your emotional health:
- Eat regularly. Don't skip a meal or you'll risk feeling cranky. Eat a filling breakfast with complex carbs like oatmeal, which will help you stay full longer.
- Do your best to avoid processed foods. They usually have plenty of sugar and bleached white flour, which can give you an energy boost quickly but make you crash sooner too. If you're in the mood for cookies, it's healthier to make your own using whole grain flour, for example.
- When eating meat, opt for grass-fed if you can. Grass-fed meats contain a higher amount of omega-3s than grain-fed animals.
- Try to eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains.
- Limit the amount of caffeine you ingest – it gives you a quick boost but can leave you feeling anxious and irritable.
An expectorant causes your cough to be more productive. What does this mean exactly? At the risk of sounding crude, an expectoran causes you to cough up phlegm. Why in the world would anyone want to do that?
Well, for one expectorants help loosen chest and lung congestion. It helps people clear mucus more quickly than they otherwise would be able to, potentially reducing the length of their cough and alleviating discomfort by clearing away the mucus.
Many cold medications have both a decongestant and an expectorant, and basically, the expectorant is cleaning up the decongestant's dirty work. This is because decongestants reduce swelling in the nose – aside from relieving someone of a sinus headache, it also relieves a stuffy nose and improves hearing caused by excess phlegm in the sinus cavities. In turn, decongestants cause the mucus in the throat and nose to become runnier.
Expectorants can ease the symptoms of upper-respiratory issues by loosening phlegm further down in the lungs. Interestingly, an expectorant can also be used in combination with a cough suppressant. While a suppressant stops those annoying little coughs in the back of the throat, expectorants allow you to still cough productively.
It's important to know that though an expectorant can relieve some symptoms, it's not a treatment for an underlying illness.
One all-natural expectorant on the market to consider is Naturade Herbal Expectorant with Guafenesin. It includes naturally soothing herbs like red clover, rose hips and cocillana bark to calm the throat. It contains guaifenesin – a compound derived from the guaiac tree that is used in all expectorants sold over the counter. However, Naturade's product is made with all-natural ingredients, including honey and black cherry syrup for flavor.
Don't spend money on expensive face products that make dubious claims. Instead, do your best to improve your skin naturally through healthful eating! Here are some of the best foods for healthy, moisturized, clear and soft skin:
Who knew these sweet berries could have an impact on your face? Since blueberries are packed with antioxidants, they fight free radicals in the body. Aside from potentially causing diseases like cancer, free radicals also reduce collagen in the skin, making it more prone to wrinkles. You can slow down your skin's aging with just 1/2 cup of blueberries per day, which pack more antioxidants than most people eat in one day!
Though they often get a bad rap as the "butter of the vegetable world" due to their fat content, the omega-3 fats in avocados are actually very good for the body. Among a host of important functions, the alpha-linolenic acid in omega-3s also keeps skin soft and smooth, and it might reduce inflammation and prevent things like psoriasis. Plus, avocados have plenty of vitamin E, which can reduce dry skin, potentially reduce free radical damage and also protect against UV rays.
When you need a boost of protein, have a healthy handful of almonds, which are also good for the skin because they contain vitamin E. One study showed that people who ate about 20 almonds per day – which contain about 14 milligrams of vitamin C in total – experienced less sunburns than those who had not.
Chocoholics, rejoice! There's another good reason to enjoy your favorite treat. Research shows that cocoa is hydrating and firming. Dark chocolate is especially good for the skin because it contains high levels of flavonols, an antioxidant that can protect the skin from damage. For the highest dose of flavanols, choose a dark chocolate that is 70 percent cacao or higher.
Snack on bell peppers – especially the red ones – for a super high dose of vitamin C. The yellow and orange veggies also have carotenoids – antioxidants that protect your skin against the sun.
These tart, gourmet fruits have lots of vitamin C and even more antioxidants than both green tea and red wine. Pomegranates are good for skin health and can keep your face looking bright – but not shiny! If picking all of the seeds out of the bitter rind is just too tedious for you, splurge on a slightly expensive bottle of pomegranate juice to get the benefits without all of the work.
Kidney beans – the large red ones that are perfect for a hearty chili – are also a good face food. Kidney beans contain high levels of zinc, which has been shown to be particularly low in people who have more blemishes on their faces. 'Tis the season for a warm, spicy chili, and you'll also be doing your skin a world of good.
If you're not in your swimsuit soaking up the rays on the beach, it can't be necessary to wear sunscreen, right? Wrong. Even when you're covered head-to-toe in winter gear with only your face uncovered, it's a good idea to slather some sunscreen on before you head out the door, and this is especially true when it's snowing. For one, snow on the ground reflects the sun's rays, making it possible to get a sunburn.
Also, many times on really sunny days in the summer, we know we need to reapply the sunscreen because our skin starts to feel warm. However, in the winter, you're less likely to feel, well, warm. So you could get a sunburn without even noticing it after spending just a few hours outside. The sun's rays are especially dangerous during winter sports like skiing or snowboarding because the high altitude puts you that much closer to the sun.
During the winter, purchase a face moisturizer that contains SPF for every day wear, or if you're heading up into the mountains, slather on a more robust sunscreen, like SPF 50. Lip balm with sun protection is also recommended.
Maybe it's Monday afternoon and you're already exhausted but still have work to do. You think to yourself, "How am I going to make it through the rest of this week without falling asleep at my desk?"
Instead of overdoing it on coffee and fueling up on simple carbs like bagels, which give you a bit of energy before leaving you more tired than you started, fill up on healthy foods that give you long-lasting fuel to make it through the day energized and with your eyes open.
Here are the best energy-boosting foods and snacks to keep your energy levels high:
It seems overly simple, but it's important to stay hydrated. H2O is valuable for every part of the body – from brain function to digestion. Things like coffee and alcohol can dehydrate you, and dehydration often leads to fatigue and a feeling of sluggishness. Add some lemon and mint to your water for an extra kick.
Almonds, walnuts and others are a great on-the-go snack. They pack in protein, healthy omega-3 fats, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins E and B. Omega-3s provide energy to organs and muscles, and the protein in nuts is great for a boost. Almonds are an especially good choice because they contain iron, which can help maintain your energy levels. Just make sure to eat nuts in moderation – one handful should do the trick! You can keep a bag of trail mix or mixed nuts in your desk or purse for when you're feeling tired.
Rather than eating bagels, white bread or crackers made from refined white flour, opt instead for whole grains, which are full of complex carbs. Carbohydrates give our bodies 60 percent of the energy we need, making them essential; however, it's important to choose the right carbs. Whole grains take more time to digest, making you feel more full longer. Plus, they contain a whole host of minerals and vitamins that don't cause us to crash like refined carbs do.
It's a good bet that you won't be too comfortable snacking on just kimchi or cabbage during lunch time. But if you happen to have lunch at a Korean joint, get something with a side of kimchi. Or if you're in a deli, order something that comes with sauerkraut. These healthy fermented foods help your body maintain energy because they're packed with probiotics, which help the gut work more efficiently and need less energy to do the work of digestion.
Treat yourself to a moderate portion of dark chocolate in the afternoon. Besides being delicious and packed with antioxidants, dark chocolate also has theobromine – a natural stimulant that boosts both your mood and energy levels.
Fresh fruits like apples, pears, bananas, berries – you name it! – have vitamins, minerals and fiber. They give you a boost of energy from the natural sugars and good carbs.
Quick tips to keep energy high
Maintain your energy levels throughout the day with these easy tips:
- Smaller meals are better when it comes to having lunch. Research has shown that people who eat larger lunches have less energy just a few hours later. This is likely because eating increases blood sugar and can interrupt your circadian rhythm.
- It's better to eat small meals, but frequently. Rather than three meals per day, opt for up to seven or eight micro-meals. Our brains need a steady supply of nutrients, as they produce very few energy reserves on their own.
- Try not to drink caffeine after 2 p.m., which can interrupt your sleep, creating a vicious cycle.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. It's especially advised to avoid alcohol at lunch so you have energy later.
On November 7, the FDA announced that partially hydrogenated oils, which are responsible for trans fats, are not safe as a food product. After a 60-day comment period, it seems likely that makers of processed foods will be required to eliminate the use of all trans fats by a certain date.
The danger of these artificial products, which are often used to make processed foods last longer, is that not only do they raise your LDL levels – or bad cholesterol – but they also lower the HDL – the body's good cholesterol. Researchers have found that aside from having absolutely no nutritional value, trans fats – due to their effects on cholesterol – can cause the build up of plaque in the arteries, leading to coronary heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and other very serious cardiovascular issues.
Thankfully, trans fats have become minimized in American diets over the years as awareness of their dangers has grown. Trans fats information was required in 2006 to be on all food labels. The FDA reports that the average American's consumption of trans fats per day has decreased from 4.6 grams in 2003 to 1 gram in 2012.
Still, food producers often switch from trans fats to saturated fats, like palm kernel, palm and coconut oils, which are not considered healthy but rather a lesser evil than saturated fats. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats, which are found in peanut, olive and canola oils, are healthier options.
It's important to read the nutrition label on any foods that you buy. Here are the processed foods in which you will often find trans fats – at least for the time being:
- Frozen pizzas
- Microwave popcorn
- Processed desserts
- Coffee creamer
Have you heard of monk fruit? This small green fruit, also known as Buddha fruit, the longevity fruit, luo han guo in Chinese and la han qua in Vietnamese, is traditionally grown on steep terraces in southern China and northern Thailand. Monk fruit is likely nicknamed as such because it was cultivated by monks.
The bitter rind has been used for tea and the extremely sweet flesh used as a sweetener for hundreds of years in China as a form of herbal medicine. While there's been some exposure to monk fruit in the Western world, it's becoming popular here as an alternative sweetener.
Benefits of monk fruit sweetener
Two of the major benefits of monk fruit sweeteners are that they are calorie-free and 100 percent natural. This is in contrast to aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, which have been theorized to contribute to cancer. One thing to know about the sweetener made from the extract of the lemon-sized monk melon is that it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. While you can substitute it for sugar in baking, you should adjust accordingly, as 1/4 teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener is often equal in sweetness to about 1 teaspoon of sugar - a little goes a long way.
For most of us, the holiday season, while wonderful, can be pretty tiring as we scramble to purchase gifts, plan holiday parties, and keep our sanity. If you're anticipating a busy holiday season, here are three natural ways to keep your energy high so you can enjoy the season to its fullest:
Maybe your morning coffee just isn't doing it anymore, but you're hesitant to up your caffeine intake too much more. Aside from the usual exhortations to eat well, here are a few more tips that might boost your energy reserves during shopping marathons and baking sessions:
- Don't eat high-fat foods right before bed. Though you might get a craving for ice cream or French fries, find something 150 calories or less to satisfy your cravings. You'll feel bloated the next morning, which can make you drag throughout the day.
- Eat a hearty breakfast high in protein, like low-fat Greek yogurt, an omelet or a meal replacement shake made with Naturade Total Soy. Protein will give your brain a boost, and a big – but healthy – breakfast will keep you full without weighing you down.
- As you're running holiday errands, keep a reusable bottle of water with you at all times. Being dehydrated can make you tired.
- For a little pick-me-up after lunch, have some peppermint candy. Research has shown that it might enhance both your mood and concentration.
Get pumped up
Sometimes you just need to change gears a little. If you've been wrapping presents, cooking or doing other holiday chores, re-motivate yourself with these tips:
- Turn on some upbeat music to avoid monotony and have some background beats.
- Watch a YouTube video that is so funny it makes you almost fall out of your chair.
- Do some energizing morning yoga or pilates for a burst of energy to start your day.
Aside for getting as much sleep as you can, there are some other things you can do to feel energized when you wake up:
- Do your best to hop out of bed right away. If you hit the snooze button frequently, put your alarm clock or phone in a place that you can't reach from the bed and turn the alarm on high so you'll be forced to actually get out of bed.
- Open the shades or turn the light on immediately in the morning. Light tells our internal clocks that it's time to wake up, so do yourself a favor and don't walk around in a dark room.
The questions arise occasionally: How much running is too much? Is running actually bad for your health? Is it stressful on the heart? The questions aren't being asked by serious couch potatoes as an excuse to stay off their feet, but by health scientists, medical experts and long-distance runners who want to make sure they're making the right choices for their bodies.
Among the most curious are the increasing number of health- and fitness-minded individuals and groups attempting to return to our ancestors' roots. These people advocate a lifestyle based on how our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors supposedly lived thousands of years ago: Eating things like grass-fed meats, fish, nuts, seeds and fresh vegetables and fruits, which is the basis of the Paleo or "caveman" diet. In attempting to discern how our early relatives might have lived, people have turned their attention to distance-running and asked the question: Is it really natural? The reasoning is that our ancestors would have had no reason to run long distances – rather, they would need to run in short, intense sprints for the purpose of hunting.
So, is running actually bad for your health? That depends on who you ask. Most people agree that running reasonable distances is excellent exercise provided your body is well-fed and you're in good shape. But what about the endurance runners who seem to take it over the top? After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day – a far cry from the 10 miles a day that some people run. But getting exercise is very important – it reduces your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer's, obesity, heart disease and dementia, among other things.
However, according to Dr. James O'Keefe, the director of Preventative Cardiology at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, we must impose healthy limits on our exercise:
"Your body is designed to deal with oxidative stress that comes from exercise for the first hour," O'Keefe said. "But prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems."
Thus, the best answer is to consult with your doctor to determine what amount of running is right for you. If you have knee or back problems, consider trying other high-intensity exercises like swimming or skating, which are easier on the joints.
There are healthy foods, and then there are mega-super-fuelled foods, which are so good for your body in so many ways that you feel healthier as you eat them. Whether you're looking to maximize your calories or to find a way to make up for that donut you enjoyed earlier in the day, here is some information about the healthiest foods in each of the five food groups:
- Bulgar: It's made from pre-cooked wheat berries and is an awesome source of fiber and protein. Additionally, bulgar wheat keeps blood sugar levels stable.
- Oatmeal: Oats are heart healthy, chock-full of fiber and even have a good amount of protein.
- Eggs: They're packed with tons of nutrients and vitamins, many of which are difficult to get elsewhere. And don't just eat the whites – the yolks are where most of the nutrients are found, including choline – 25 percent of your daily dose – which can increase cell membrane functioning and reduce inflammation in the body. They also contain vitamins B6, B12, D and E, as well as iron, folate, zinc, phosphorus and riboflavin. While it's true that people with heart disease should limit their ingestion of egg yolks to twice per week, they're very healthy for everyone else to consume frequently.
- Beans: These perfect foods are packed with fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium. They've been shown to be very heart-healthy, and it's recommended that people eat at least 3 cups of beans per week.
- Salmon: It's packed with omega-3s, which have been shown to be good for heart health and brain function. One serving of salmon has nearly 50 percent of one's daily dose of niacin, which is good for memory. It's also a lean source of protein.
- Blueberries: These lovely little fruits are an amazing source of powerful antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which can help protect the body and brain from environmental toxins. They also are a good source of vitamins C and E, niacin, folate and riboflavin.
- Kiwi: Kiwis combine a lot in a small package. They have nearly as much potassium as a banana and twice as much vitamin C as oranges, ounce for ounce.
- Figs: These perfect little California- and Mediterranean-growing fruits are good for cardiovascular health and have high levels of potassium and nearly as much calcium per serving as a half cup of milk.
- Broccoli: Along with other cruciferous veggies, like cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli has disease-fighting and heart-healthy benefits, vitamin C and the all-important sulforaphane.
- Avocados: They're filled with all kinds of healthy stuff, including mono-unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamin E, folate and potassium. Also, they're downright tasty on a salad, sandwich or as guacamole.
- Spinach: The best part about this ultra-healthy veggie is that it can be added to nearly everything, from sandwiches to smoothies. It's an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important antioxidants for eye health, not to mention various vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
- Greek yogurt: It's the best, hands-down. Greek yogurt is packed with protein and calcium, and it tastes delicious even with very low levels of fat. The probiotics are good for digestion.