With fabulous fall colors and bright clear skies, it’s hard to imagine that winter is just around the corner. But, deep down inside, many of us dread those approaching long, dark days. Even as we celebrate our harvest and prepare for Halloween and Thanksgiving, some folks suffer from a slow, sinking feeling that soon they will be trapped – trapped by deep snows and icy roads. The thought can seriously affect a person’s mood.
The fact is, when this depressed mood hits, many people want nothing more than a high-carb snack. They’re stressed, feeling low, feeling trapped, and depressed, and nothing sounds better than a bag of chips or donuts. We may have felt energetic all summer long, walking, biking, and swimming, nibbling on our salads, carrots, and celery, but when winter hits, it’s a different story.
When winter comes creeping, our low mood demands those bags of salty potato chips, double-chocolate donuts, and fatty microwave popcorn. And who can blame us? Winters can be hard work! For some folks just heating their home becomes a huge chore and an even bigger expense. Getting in a car and driving to work during the winter months can be enough of a stress for some people that they invite a bag of potato chips along for the drive!
Lucky for us, I’ve found some real data that suggests that we CAN snack on carbohydrate-laden foods when we are feeling low. Even better news is that we Should snack on high-carb foods when we start to feel down and depressed. The catch? The snack needs to be a healthy carbohydrate.
Science writer Carla Helfferich of the Geophysical Institute, has reported on a study done in cooperation with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ research community. The article entitled Darkness on the Brain–and on the Stomach reports that carbohydrates may be needed in some people who suffer from depression, low moods, and even SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The culprit? The manufacturing of serotonin, the “feel good” biochemical in your brain, has somehow slowed down. The solution? Well, let me insert a portion of the study mentioned to explain how eating carbohydrates affects the manufacture of serotonin in your brain.
“This (serotonin) biochemical is synthesized in the brain from another chemical, trytophan. Put extremely simply, the more carbohydrates you eat, the more trytophan can get to the brain and the more serotonin will be made there. In normal human systems, a neurochemical feedback quickly signals that there’s enough serotonin for now–one cookie may suffice. With carbohydrate craving, you may be a dozen cookies along before the signal turns off the urge to consume.”
“Serotonin also affects mood and sleepiness. Typically, a high-carbohydrate lunch leads to a sluggish afternoon for office workers–unless they are carbohydrate cravers. Then the effect may be almost invigorating and cheering. Furthermore, trials in SAD patients of a drug that stimulates serotonin production showed that it eased their symptoms of depression and urge to snack on high-carbohydrate foods.”
So, if you are a “carbohydrate craver” when you get depressed or feel low, it sounds like satisfying your craving with carbohydrates is the right thing to do to get your serotonin manufacturing plant running. That’s good news, right? Now we can have our carbohydrates without guilt.
Except, how’s that diet going? And, do you really want to be snacking on a dozen cookies to lift your mood? I don’t think buying a bigger size pair of pants is going to do anything for my mood. So, what do the experts suggest?
According to The Serotonin Power Diet authors Judith J. Wurtman, PhD and Nina T. Frusztajer, MD, you can go ahead and give your serotonin a boost with carbohydrates, just be aware of which carbs you should be eating, and when. They suggest about half hour to an hour before a meal, that you munch on what they call “a serotonin soothing snack.” This would include pretzels, popcorn, and even cherry licorice. They suggest it will lift your mood and energize you. Then, at meal time, you’ll eat less and feel better about yourself. Mood lifted!
Author Elizabeth Somer, R.D., who wrote The Food and Mood Cookbook, says that our real friend in the world of serotonin-producing-carbs is popcorn. According to researchers, simply snacking on whole-grain, high-carb popcorn can boost our serotonin level by 85% , and unlike other carb-rich snacks, popcorn is low calorie, only about 30 calories in each cup. Popcorn also contains more fiber than broccoli. If you stick to air-popped popcorn and skip the butter, you can snack away to your hearts content without destroying your diet!
No matter what season it is, when you’re having one of those “lower than a snake’s belly” sort of days, and all you can think about is filling your face, go ahead and dive right in! Just as long as it’s a big bowl of freshly air-popped popcorn.
Get your serotonin factory back to work with some good old healthy carbs and feel better without sacrificing your healthy diet. Now, aren’t you feeling just a little better just knowing you have the “okay” to snack? Enjoy your Fuzzy Wuzzy Wednesday!
p.s. How about a simple way to make popcorn in your microwave without buying those fat-laden and expensive bags of microwave popcorn? Click right here to see how easy it is to do!