Comfort food doesn't have to mean meatloaf and mashed potatoes. In fact, research reveals that there are healthier staples that can soothe your soul and get you grinning. Incorporate these eight expert picks into your daily diet and you'll score more energy, less stress and even a brighter smile. Consider these your new happy meals!
"The omega-3s found in salmon have been proven to boost mood," says Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian and the director of FoodTrainers, a nutrition center in New York City. These healthy fats not only put a smile on your face, but they can also help keep it there: A recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who consistently consumed more omega-3s were 30 percent less likely to develop gum disease than those who got less. Don't like seafood? Reach for other sources like flax and walnuts.
Even if you're not a guacamole fan, this green fruit can bring you happiness. "Avocados contain serotonin, a type of feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain," says Slayton. Try using a few slices as a creamy substitute for mayo in sandwiches, or toss some cubes into your lunchtime salad.
Although they're known as nature's candy, raisins are one sweet treat that won't cause cavities. In fact, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry found that the healthy antioxidants in raisins helped slow the growth of two types of bacteria that set the stage for tooth decay and gum disease. Snack on a handful for an instant hit of energy.
4. Dark chocolate
It's no wonder that many women consider chocolate comfort food. "Chocolate is high in magnesium, a mineral that calms muscles and can relieve anxiety," says Slayton. For an even bigger dose of the mineral, try satisfying your sweet tooth with chocolate-covered almonds.
The next time you pick up a box, check to make sure it's fortified with vitamin D. Over 60 percent of Americans don't get enough of this "sunshine" nutrient, which has been shown to fend off the blues -- especially during the dark days of winter. Pair those puffs of flakes with low-fat milk for a dose of bone- and teeth-fortifying calcium.
6. Green tea
Feeling stressed? Brew some soothing tea. These green leaves contain L-theanine, an antioxidant that has been linked with relaxation. Sip a mug before that big meeting, and you'll score another benefit: fresher breath. According to research from Pace University in New York City, green tea's polyphenols can destroy bacteria that lead to bad breath and tooth decay.
Scoop up a better mood with this calcium-rich snack. Yogurt contains probiotics, friendly bacteria that have been shown to ease depression. Plus, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology reveals that probiotics may reduce inflammation in the mouth, lowering your risk of gum disease and even oral cancer.
When you're grumpy or sluggish, chances are you crave bread and pasta. "That's because carbs increase serotonin levels in the body, which can put you in a better mood," explains Slayton. But before you twirl up that spaghetti, snack on some popcorn. The whole-grain treat has the same beneficial effect and, at just 31 calories per cup, won't wreck your waistline.
Sharon Liao is an award-winning health editor and writer who has been on staff at Prevention, Fitness, and Reader's Digest magazines. She has contributed to Seventeen and Weight Watchers Magazine, as well as The Intellectual Devotional: Health.
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