Mood food

When someone in my house is in the grip of a bad mood moment, we nominate them as the ‘Grumpy Fish, so-called after a much-loved children’s book, Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins. It’s almost impossible to keep up a bad mood with that tag following you.

Jokes aside, good mood vs. bad mood is a real thing and many people are really interested in the potential link between good mood and food. Over the last week I have been interviewed on TV and radio on the subject and it seems that most people can identify at least one positive mood food and another that sends them down into the dungeons.

I’ve picked out a few mood foods that may actually perk you up (and your health as a bonus side effect).

Eggs – For many years the humble egg has been given a bad rap on the cholesterol front. The fact is, the egg yolk is home to a healthy mix of poly and monounsaturated fats with only a smidgen of saturated fat and should be an essential part of a healthy diet, even if you have high cholesterol and raised blood lipids. Eggs are also a great source of protein and energy but their secret weapon is the nutrient choline. Choline is vital for the functioning of cells and neurotransmitters thought to be related to mood and energy. Plus having your brain work properly is always a mood enhancer!

Dark chocolate – Many chocolate lovers will agree that there is something about chocolate that quite simply makes you happy! Before we get too carried away in a moment of joy and happiness at this thought, its important to know that the darker varieties are preferred as they contain higher amounts of cocoa and therefore, antioxidants in the form of flavonoids. Chocolate does contain both fat and sugar but a small amount in an otherwise healthy diet, a small amount can be enjoyed, happily.

Coffee – The morning coffee fix is one that you can see played out in cafe’s all over the world and many people feel that it provides them with an energy boost and alertness they simply can’t do without. Yes, we do need to be aware of how much caffeine we consume each day but if your morning ritual improves your mood and your outlook, that can only be a positive. In addition, coffee is rich in antioxidants and has been linked to a decreased risk of dementia.

Milk – My Nan often advised a warm milk before bed for a restful sleep and although this might seem like a bedtime story, it’s actually based on fact. Protein is made up of many different amino acids (a bit like Lego pieces) and one of these, tryptophan, helps in the production of the sleep inducing chemicals, serotonin and melatonin. Milk and other dairy products are rich in tryptophan, hence the milk before bed. I think we all know that more sleep (or even simply enough) is possibly the best mood enhancer ever!

Vitamin D – This vitamin or the lack of it has been linked to being a risk factor for many lifestyle diseases including cancer and heart disease. Vitamin D is not an easy vitamin to get through food and the vast majority for us humans, comes from sunlight. Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired (and grumpy) and just five minutes of sunlight ups the production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that improve mood. Not only is stepping into the sunlight for a brief moment mood enhancing but it also boosts your Vitamin D stores. Win-win.

 

 

Just one thing

Italian barista

There are few people that would dispute my conviction that Italy produces the best coffee in the world and my current sea change in this beautiful country has meant that I have been able to conduct some serious research into the topic. This morning as I greeted my favourite barista and watched her expertly take orders, make my coffee and at least ten others, serve pastries whilst washing cups and greeting every single person that walked through the door with a smile, it was obvious to me that she was expert at multi-tasking. It certainly didn’t appear to be negatively impacting my Italian barista but is multi-tasking such a good thing? These days, multi-tasking is a term thrown around in all directions and is something we are expected to do in the workplace, at home and in the general management of our lives.

The term “multi-tasking” is not new though and originated in the computer industry, referring to the ability of a microprocessor to process several tasks simultaneously with the first published use of the word appearing in 1965.

Almost 50 years later, multi-tasking is alive and well and it is very difficult not to do it. We are expected to achieve a great deal each day (often quite unrealistically) and we are bombarded with a constant stream of information and technology. Most of us think we are good at it and it is common knowledge that many women believe they are much better at multi-tasking than men, quite often congratulating themselves on their prowess. Leading brain expert, Norman Doidge M.D. author of The Brain that Changes Itself, discusses some research in his book that suggests the left and right hemispheres are better connected in women and that women are better at multi-tasking than men. For all the indignant males out there, it is a moot point anyway as you will soon see.

Doing things like speaking on the phone while folding washing or watching the TV screen while on the treadmill are easy and possible without error, because they don’t require much brainpower.  However, if you want to learn a particular skill or do something well that requires concerted effort, multi-tasking is not advisable, according to Norman Doidge, who is a passionate anti multi-tasker.

It would seem that our brains just aren’t equipped for multi-tasks that require brainpower. George A. Miller, a respected cognitive psychologist, published one of the most highly cited papers in psychology that is often interpreted to suggest that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7+/- 2. This is usually referred to as Millers Law. When information doesn’t make it into short- term memory, it can’t be transferred into long-term memory for later use. The bottom line is, if you can’t recall it you can’t use it.

In The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge points to the detailed studies that have been done on multi-tasking which show that people don’t do things as well. It takes a certain amount of mental effort and time to switch from Topic A to Topic B and, if you’re truly multi-tasking – activity A to activity B, you are constantly shifting your brain just like a computer, booting up some circuitry and closing down other circuitry. In the end multi-tasking is working against you and results in inefficiency, fatigue and stress.

Multi-tasking can be dangerous too. Distraction is known to be the leading cause in 22% of car crashes and 71% of truck crashes, with one of the major distractions being the use of mobile phones and hand-held devices. The use of mobile phones, in particular texting, increases the risk of a car crash four-fold. Driving a vehicle is a multi-tasked activity itself and a classic example of where multi-tasking cannot work, constituting a major threat to life.

Children are no different to adults and do not possess any special ability to multi-task.  Many brain experts agree that learning to concentrate is a skill not just useful for academic pursuits but also for life.

So instead of reading this blog while watching the news, cooking dinner, and talking to your kids, try something new.  Just do one thing. Do nothing else and give your brain a rest. Everything else can wait.