Feeling depressed? Bananas can change your mood

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Feeling depressed? Bananas can change your mood
Dhara Singh noticed that about twice or thrice a month, her son, Gopal, would be very tired in the afternoons, for no ostensible reason. Gopal would come home after having lunch at his grandparents house. When she left him there, he would be happy and excited at the prospect of spending time with them, yet when she picked him up a little after lunch, he would be low and lethargic and not want to talk or participate in any activity in the house. This would last for many hours. She checked with her parents, but there was never any reason for this change in Gopal’s behaviour that they could point a finger at.

When this continued for a few months, Singh started to search online to see if there was anything that could be causing this sudden change in her son’s behaviour. What she discovered startled her. Eating certain foods controlled neurotransmitters in the brain which in turn controlled a person’s mood. On further research she discovered that every time her son went to her parent’s house, they fed him his favourite foods, which consisted of rice and sugar. Since Singh never cooked those dishes, Gopal always asked for them from his grandparents. She discovered that those foods were directly responsible for changing his mood.

Eating certain food can affect our mood, positively or negatively. According to recent reports, the brain communicates by chemical substances passed from one nerve cell to the next. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are made in the brain from the food we eat. The neurotransmitters which are most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting the mood are serotonin.

Ann Wolters consultant and writing coach says, neurotransmitters facilitate communication between neurons in the brain. The body uses the nutrients in the foods we eat, primarily amino acids, to manufacture neurotransmitters. According to Wolters, brown rice is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin when the body has adequate vitamins B1, B3, B6 and folic acid. Serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, plays an important role in brain activities such as learning and memory. Serotonin promotes contentment and normal sleep. People with low serotonin levels in the brain may experience depression, insomnia or aggressive behaviour. When tyrosine levels in the brain and blood are high, neurons also manufacture the neurotransmitter dopamine, which promotes alertness and activity. Dopamine is important for healthy assertiveness as well as proper nervous and immune system functioning.

Low levels of dopamine in the brain can lead to depression, addictions, cravings, compulsions and poor attention and focus -- so maintaining this particular neurotransmitter is important. Some of the best sources include almonds, avocados, bananas, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. In addition, since dopamine is easily oxidised, fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants such as blueberries, strawberries, kale and spinach may also help protect brain neurons from damage.

Foods high in refined sugar, saturated fats and cholesterol tend to interfere with proper brain function and can decrease dopamine levels. Foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol can also clog arteries to the brain, heart and other organs. In addition, people suffering from depression should avoid food and drinks high in the stimulant caffeine, which speeds up neurotransmission to increase the amount of serotonin, but ultimately causes an addictive pattern or major dip when the caffeine has worn off.

Eating raw food helps neurotransmitters, as cooking foods destroys essential amino acids such as tryptophan and increases the amounts of free glutamate in foods which cause mental excitability.

Foods such as white sugar, white bread, white rice, pasta (unless made from whole grains), among others, make you feel sleepy and lethargic since they have a high glycemic index. Because Singh only cooked whole grains at home, Gopal wanted to eat white rice and sugar which his friends ate. He, therefore, always requested his grandparents to feed him that meal. Singh found out that this type of food leeches the body of Vitamin B and calcium, causes restlessness, lack of concentration and an immediate feeling of fatigue.

It is possible to eat food that contribute to the production of a neurotransmitter that we may be lacking. To feel immediately happy and good, eat bananas (which increase serotonin levels immediately), walnuts and almonds (which are high in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, prevent ageing, and are excellent sources of vitamin E), pistachios (which are low in glycemic index, high in vitamin B and fibre, low in fat and maintain blood sugar levels) and dark chocolate with a high content of cocoa (which contains phenyl ethylamine, a stimulant that makes you feel good). zz

(The writer is the owner of wellness centre Back to the Basics and the author of The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!)

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