The foods we eat have a direct impact on our moods. Here, Westchester-based dietician-nutritionist Alexandra Kaplan Corwin confirms and dispels some common food myths.
Trans Fats Cause Brain Fog. TRUE.
“Hydrogenated oils, aka trans fats, are used to extend the shelf life of foods,” Corwin explains. They increase “bad cholesterol and may contribute to moodiness and to brain shrinkage, by replacing the healthy fats in the brain’s cell membranes.”
Turkey Makes You Tired. FALSE.
Turkey is high in the amino acid tryptophan, a component of serotonin, which converts to melatonin (the “sleepy” hormone). But tryptophan needs the help of high-carb foods to have an affect on serotonin levels and, when combined with a high-fiber carb, turkey helps “keep your blood sugars stable, your energy levels up and prevents you from feeling tired.”
Sugar Makes You Hyper —Then Groggy. TRUE.
Carbs are converted into sugar in your blood, which can “give you a ‘sugar high’ or hyperactive feeling,” Corwin says. Insulin is then released from your pancreas, “which moves the sugar out of your blood and into your cells.” The drop in blood sugar is what makes you feel tired and groggy.
Dark Chocolate Makes You Happy. TRUE.
Chocolate contains the neurotransmitter anandamide, which can block feelings of pain and depression. It also “contains phenylethylamine, which causes your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happy,” says Corwin, adding that “phenylethylamine is the same chemical your body produces when you are falling in love!”
Coffee Perks You Up. TRUE.
But it’s not just because of caffeine. Studies have shown that coffee causes the brain to release the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which increases neurogenesis (the growth of nervous tissue); low levels of BDNF are associated with depression.
Yellow Jelly Beans Make You Moody. TRUE.
FD & C Yellow No. 5 is a food dye that’s found in lots of sweets. Yellow No. 5 has been linked to a number of ailments and reactions, as well as to mood disorders. “Some research has shown that food colorings, such as yellow No. 5, may cause symptoms of hyperactivity,” Corwin says.
Oysters Make You…Frisky. POSSIBLY TRUE.
“Oysters are high in zinc and deficiencies in zinc have been associated with impotence,” Corwin says. “Some research has shown that oysters suggest sex to the brain because they look like genitalia. However, we cannot be sure that the nutrients in oysters themselves are actually aphrodisiacs. We definitely need more research on this topic.”
Chinese Takeout Makes You Cranky. TRUE and FALSE.
The culprit is not the food itself but the MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) that’s sometimes added to enhance flavor. MSG — which is also found in “packaged and canned foods, and even in cold cuts” — can cause headaches, nausea, anxiety, and weakness. Corwin suggests reading ingredient lists to avoid MSG, because “It may be hidden by another name, such as autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, yeast extract, or glutamic acid.”