Editor’s Note: As many of you may know, Hurricane Sandy caused major power outages in New York, and specifically in the area where our newsletter is created. But we’re up and going now, and hope you enjoy this issue, albeit a few days later than expected.
Are You Feeling Blue?
Feeling a bit blue these days? You could be one of the 25 million Americans battling the winter blues. While other forms of depression strike at any time, the winter blues is a seasonal thing; you feel irritable and eat more as the leaves start changing colors in the Fall and perk up and drop a few pounds when the daffodils sprout in the Spring. The reasons why our moods slip and our appetites take over by mid-winter could be simply that we’re cooped up, bored, and restless, or it could have a deeper cause, resulting from a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood and hunger. Whatever the reason, most people, including our kids, experience some kind of change in mood in the winter.
Of course, depression, mood swings, and chronic irritability also can be symptoms of other more serious problems, including Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, which affects another 10 million Americans. The winter blues and SAD rest on the same continuum, differing only in their degree of severity. A person suffering from winter blues might feel grumpy and tired, while someone with SAD suffers serious depression and fatigue.
The first step is to increase exposure to full-spectrum light. Dark winter skies lower levels of serotonin, which makes some people drowsy and more prone to depression. Ample sunshine hitting the retina of our eyes triggers a cascade of events in the brain that raises serotonin levels. Up to 80% of SAD and winter blues sufferers report at least some relief when exposed for 30 minutes to 1 1 /2 hours daily to sunlight or a specialized light box that emits light 5- to 20-times brighter than typical indoor light. Your physician or a mental-health professional can provide information on where to obtain these special lights once you are diagnosed with SAD.
Next, take a look at your diet. A sweet tooth during the winter months might stem from low serotonin levels. Snacking on sweets works temporarily – serotonin levels rise and we feel better, but that high is followed by a crash, setting up a hunger and mood roller coaster that leads to overeating and weight gain. Skip the sugar and cut back on the caffeine, both may be aggravating the blues.
Instead, switch from sweets to high-quality carbs, such as whole grain breads and crackers, or starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes. Plan a mid-afternoon all-carb snack, such as half a whole wheat English muffin with jam, 3 fig bars, or a bowl of air-popped popcorn to counteract the desire to eat sweets at this crave-prone time of day. Serotonin also improves sleep, so honey drizzled over half a bagel or a scoop of sorbet, will help you sleep better, too!
Some people don’t experience a mood boost when they eat high-carb diets. So, if you still feel grumpy after a week’s worth of the high-carb choices, try cutting back on the carbohydrates and increasing protein intake by adding a slice of turkey or a glass of milk to the meal. Protein has a satiating effect that keeps you full longer and curbs cravings in some people.
Take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplement. According to a study from the University of Arizona Health Science Center in Tucson, more than one in four patients with depression are deficient in vitamins B2, B6, and B12, and folic acid. B-rich foods include chicken, legumes, fish, bananas, avocados, and dark green leafy vegetables. A moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplies these B vitamins and can fill in the nutritional gaps on those days when you don’t eat perfectly. Also, take a vitamin D supplement.
Finally, move more. People who stick with exercise report they feel good, physically and mentally. Daily exercise raise brain chemicals, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, that boost alertness. Exercise also helps calm the body by lowering blood levels of the “stress hormones,” such as cortisol. Finally, a daily, brisk walk outdoors may be all the light exposure you need to boost your mood.
Just Do This Today
1. Challenge yourself to see how many colorful fruits and/or vegetables you can include in your diet today.
2. Whip up some watermelon for a refreshing drink mid-day.
3. Substitute a fat-free item for a full-fat item in one recipe, such as fat-free sour cream, half & half, or cream cheese.
4. Use chicken broth instead of oil or butter to saute your foods.
Hot Off the Diet Press
1. Sugar Addiction Gaining Ground: Brains can’t resist sweet and creamy foods, or at least rat brains, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Researchers gave the animals a drug to artificially boost the action of a portion of the brain, called the neostriatum, then gave them a hefty dose of M&Ms. The animals ate twice as many as they normally would, or the equivalent of a 150-pound person eating seven pounds of candy in an hour. Endorphin-like chemicals produced in the neostriatum also increased, producing a very pleasurable experience. When presented with a choice of their usual rat chow or M&Ms, the rats with high levels of the chemical consistently ignored the rat chow and dove into the candy. The researchers feel these findings have important implications for humans, food addiction, and weight management. http://1.usa.gov/RRoy7X
2. Antioxidants and Male Virility: The promise that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may have just risen to a whole new level, if the results of a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California proves true. The study included 80 healthy, non-smoking men between the ages of 22 and 80-years-old who completed questionnaires on diet and supplement use and gave sperm samples. Results showed that men who were 45-years-old or older who consumed the most antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and zinc, as well as folate had the highest sperm quality. Those who consumed the most vitamin C (averaging about 700 milligrams a day) had 20% less DNA damage compared to men who consumed less of this antioxidant. Similar results were found for vitamin E, folate, and zinc. The older men who consumed the highest intake of these nutrients had lowered sperm damage similar to those of much younger men. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
3. Overweight, Lower Intelligence: Being overweight as a child doesn’t just raise the risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, self esteem, and social problems, it also lowers overall intelligence, according to a study from NYU Langone School of Medicine in New York. Teens diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and a matched control group completed a series of tests on attention, mental flexibility, reading, writing, and math. Results showed that overweight teens with the metabolic syndrome performed poorly on all the tests compared to the control group. MRI scans revealed that the teens with metabolic syndrome had a 10% reduction in the side of the hippocampus region of their brains, the center critical for memory. Brain atrophy also was found more often in the parts of the brain that make connections between different neurological regions. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Food & Mood Tip: Got a Craving?
Sometimes cravings for chocolate, ice cream, or chips is fueled by an orchestra of brain chemicals designed to entice you to eat fat, sugar, or both. To work with, rather than against, this appetite chemistry:
1. Eat small, meals and snacks throughout the day that contain some high-quality carbs and some protein to keep the brain chemicals, NPY and serotonin, in the normal range. Skipping breakfast only escalates NPY levels and increases cravings later in the morning.
2. Avoid fatty meals and snacks mid-day, since they may give the brain chemical, galanin, an extra boost and set you up for more fat cravings at night.
3. Take it slow. Gradually make dietary changes, including reducing fat, sugar, or calories, to allow time for the crave-control chemicals to adapt.
4. Plan your cravings. Allow small servings of your favorite food may well avoid binge eating associated with abstinence.
5. Cut back on sugar, caffeine, and refined grains, since these quick-fix energy boosts only undermine your weight loss efforts and fuel cravings in the long run.
6. If habit, not chemicals, is at the root of a craving, find more nutritious, low-calorie foods or develop a new habit that provides the same pleasurable or rewarding effect, such as take a brisk walk, paint your nails, or take a hot bath instead of eating.
Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week – Look Years Younger
Your skin is an outer reflection of your inner health. You can look up to 15 years younger if you nourish this precious tissue. For example, the amount of beta carotene obtained from 1/2 cup of cooked carrots and the lycopene in 1 cup of watermelon reduces the redness and skin inflammation of sunburn, which is a sign of accelerated aging and cancer of the skin. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing 24-hour protection against sun damage. The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Caution: Eating too many carotene-rich foods can turn skin yellowish, but don’t worry, this fades when you cut back on carrots and doesn’t show up at all with a light tan. Lycopene-rich foods don’t tint the skin, and do lower risk for not only skin cancer, but premature wrinkling and aging, too.
What to Do? Include several deep-orange or green produce, including carrots, chard, collards, canned pumpkin, spinach, acorn squash, and mango, in the daily menu. Aim for 10 milligrams of lycopene a day in watermelon, canned tomatoes, and tomato paste.
Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week
Chicken with Mushrooms in Creamy Garlic Pecan Sauce
(from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)
Nut milk is a great alternative to heavy creams in recipes. Vary the thickness of the sauce by adjusting the amount of water you add to the ground nuts. You can substitute some of the water with fat-free cream cheese of fat-free half & half for an even richer sauce. Serve this dish over noodles, rice, or couscous to soak up the sauce. Try almonds or cashews instead of pecans for a change of flavor, too.
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon “Better Than Bouillon” Chicken Base (optional)
4 4-ounce chicken breast halves, skinned and boneless
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups mushrooms, sliced
fresh parsley, chopped
1) In a blender or food processor, finely grind pecans, scraping sides as needed. With blender running, add water and chicken base and continue to blend until mixture is smooth.
2) Heat large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken and set aside.
3) Add onions, garlic, and mushrooms to skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally.
4) Pour nut milk into mushroom mixture, stir, and bring to boil. Cook for about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken breasts and serve over noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes. Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional Analysis per serving: Calories; percent fat (grams); grams saturated fat; percent protein; percent carbohydrate; grams fiber.
Answers to “Do You Know?” from last issue:
1. Is diet soda better for you than regular soda?
Soft drinks now outrank coffee as America’s favorite beverage, but we all would be better off if both diet and regular soda were cut out of the diet. Even one or two soft drinks a week is enough to pack on the pounds, while both regular and diet soda increase the risk for kidney and heart disease, according to several studies including one from Harvard. Both diet and regular soda also contain acids that erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk for cavities The best alternative? You guessed it – water!
2. Is there such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods,” or just good or bad diets?
Yeah, yeah, there are only good and bad diets, right? In general, that could be considered true, but come on! In a country faced with epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and a population where indulgence is a daily routine, what is good about a fried pork rind? Nutrition-wise a can of cheese whiz doesn’t hold a candle to a mango! We usually don’t have a problem treating ourselves to those tasty foods, so to say there are no ‘bad’ foods might be a license for some people to eat anything whenever they want. It’s possible some foods really are not good for some people. For example, if having cookies in the house triggers a person to binge, then that food could be a problem simply because it results in unhealthy behaviors. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake, chocolate, or chips, but only once in a while and in reasonable portions, such as a can of soda once a week, not every day. Instead, stock the kitchen with ‘good’ foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, canned tomatoes and beans, and low-fat yogurt or soymilk.
Do You Know?
Whether or not most people gain 7 pounds during the holiday season?
Does turkey really make you sleepy?
Check next week for the answers….
Label Lingo Light or Lite
When you see these words on a food label it means the food contains a third fewer calories or 50% less fat. If the food derives more than half its calories from fat, then its fat level must by reduced by half or more to make this claim. These words do not mean the food is healthy or even healthier, other than having less calories. And, of course, if you eat more because of the verbiage, you still can pack on the pounds.
The Daily Menu
Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.
1 toasted whole wheat frozen waffle, topped with 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream and 1 1/2 cup raspberries
1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt mixed with 1 tablespoon almonds and 1 tablespoon dried cranberries
1 whole wheat pocket bread, torn into segments and dunked in 1/3 cup garlic hummus (pre-mixed is found in refrigerator section of most grocery stores)
10 baby carrots
1 medium peach or nectarine
Sparkling water with a twist of lime
1 serving Chicken with Mushrooms in Creamy Garlic Pecan Sauce
2 /3 cup low-fat mashed potatoes
1 cup steamed fresh broccoli
1 medium tomato, sliced and topped with 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon crumbled low-fat feta cheese
2 whole-wheat apricot (or fig) bars
1 cup nonfat milk, warmed and topped with nutmeg
Nutritional Information: 1,602 Calories; 22% Calories from fat (40 grams); 245 grams Carbohydrate; 71 grams Protein; 1,221 mg. sodium; 36 grams fiber; 1,084 mg. calcium.