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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mood Food

I just wanted to share an article from Vita.mn Woo Hoo!

Mood foods

Winter dragging you down? Here's a complete menu for beating the winter blues.

Photo by Carlos Gonzalez
The Chana Masala at the Himalayan Restaurant in Minneapolis has curry spices and garbanzo beans — both reputed to make you feel better.
Photo by Carlos Gonzalez
W.A. Frost's pumpkin-rutabaga soup (with toasted pumpkin seeds and harissa yogurt) is rich in mood-stabilizing magnesium.

If March comes in like a lion, then February comes in like a Tyrannosaurus rex. The snow squeaks like a rubber suit beneath your boots. One gulp of the biting wind and you're overcome with a nervous certainty that your lungs will splinter. Everyone's hands start to look like they've been soaked in turpentine.

Of course, Minnesotans are a hardy lot. Still, if studies are to be believed, we aren't exactly happy in winter -- more like really good fakers. According to a "happiness" study published in December, Minnesota ranks 26th in reported well-being, just below North Dakota. And if you believe studies about other studies, research shows that springtime weather accounts for a serious rise in happiness and cognition above the average baseline winter mood. In other words, if we're fakers, then we're martyrs, too. Because the winter doldrums? Hey, that's our baseline normal!

We have a ways to go before feeling that sweet mood spike. But the tundra we love so much offers us plenty of nearby mood-boosters that are sure to feel positively springlike. And nearly all of them are available at area restaurants and grocery stores.


One way to maintain your health and mood when winter seems to have no end is to eat seasonal, local foods. Admittedly, when the ground is as hard and thick as a granite countertop, that's not easy to do. But local, pesticide-free, fall-emerging carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in nutrients and beta-carotene known to combat the destructive power of free radicals, which in layman's terms are basically unstable, damaged cells responsible for premature aging.

Mary Langfield, a holistic health coach in Minneapolis who helps people suffering from anxiety, depression and serious winter blues to devise meal plans, always advises her clients to eat local and in-season when possible. Such foods "[come from] the soil from around here, they're not getting trucked around the country," Langfield says. "You're getting something that's fresher, has more nutrients and vitamins and minerals."

In addition to local carrots and squash, pumpkin seeds are a great source for better health and mood. "Pumpkin seeds offer a lot of magnesium, which many people are deficient in," Langfield says. Foods rich in magnesium, which is linked to mood stabilization, also include nuts, tofu and dark leafy vegetables. Also on the nut tip: Cashews, while hardly local, are loaded with tryptophan, an amino acid that converts to serotonin and aids in sleep.
  • Suggested dishes/drinks:
    Roasted squash ravioli, which comes with toasted pecans, from Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis; Orange Dream smoothie, featuring oranges, carrots and ginger, from Ecopolitan in Minneapolis; pumpkin-pie smoothie from Powderhorn Fusion in Minneapolis; pumpkin-rutabaga soup featuring toasted pumpkin seeds and harissa yogurt from W.A. Frost in St. Paul; and, if you want to cheat on your diet but boost your mood about it, sweet potato fries from Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis.


After a night or two of serious indulgence (or, say, a long winter of shenanigans), one of the best ways to cleanse your system and feel like you aren't made of crumbling concrete and rust is to eat leafy greens. For one thing, they're blood purifiers, so they'll help flush all that beer, wine and whiskey. The chlorophyll in greens is a purifier, cleanser and digestive aid -- meaning you don't really need an Oprah-approved detoxifier in a capsule to clean up your act. "Collard greens, bok choy, kale and dandelion greens are great for getting over excess sugar or alcohol consumption, which can really weigh you down and make you feel really tired," Langfield says.

So next time you feel hungover and like your arms are excess baggage, go for dark green foods to wipe away the split-pea-soup fog you're in.


In both Indian ayurveda (harmonic health) and Chinese medicine, warming foods are often prescribed for all that ails you. Those include foods rich in ingredients like cardamom, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, which are essential for warming the body and keeping the system healthy and happy, according to ancient beliefs.

A recent study found that Western doctors are jumping on the Eastern medicine bandwagon, often prescribing turmeric and cumin because the spices boast an active ingredient known as curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging qualities.

Cumin and turmeric are common -- and delicious -- ingredients in curry dishes. Add to that some garbanzo beans, which are high in mood-boosting magnesium. Or pour the fresh curry over some lentils, which according to Langfield offer plenty of pholates, a vitamin that many people are deficient in, and which helps to reverse depression. (Lentils are also rich in vitamin B, which helps increase energy.) Suddenly you have a hearty, mouthwatering antidepressant in a steamy bowl loaded with nose-tickling spices.
  • Suggested dishes
    Chana Masala, featuring garbanzo beans and curry spices, at the Himalayan Restaurant in Minneapolis; lamb curry (medium spicy), also from the Himalayan; green curry with tofu from True Thai in Minneapolis; Persian Dhansak, cooked in lentil and tomato curry, from Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis; cheesecake at Corner Table in Minneapolis, because it's delicious and fortified with cardamom (a real benefit, right?).


Eat the head of George Washington. Or Barack Obama. That is, eat your Chia Pet. "Chia seeds are rich in Omega-3s," Langfield says. "Apparently the Aztecs almost lived off of them. You can toss them into a salad -- they don't have a flavor, really. But they are awesome for you." It's doubtful our famous chefs and award-winning restaurants will be serving you chia seeds anytime soon. But you can plant your own chia garden and chomp on the health benefits (which include increased energy and endurance) while you use your Clapper to dim the lights. And who knows -- with chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, greens and squash injecting you with the feel-goods and new energy, you could wind up inventing the next ShamWow.

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