Fascination with mood-enhancing food is clearly on the rise, EATING WELL's Mary Hegarty Nowlan and Elizabeth Hiser report, and research confirms its potential. For example, doses of tyrosine, an amino acid in protein, makes people shine on mental tasks. While other components in high-protein foods -- notably fat -- will slow down this 'mental adrenaline,' food research pioneer Judith Wurtman recommends scarfing protein when you need to think fast.
Carbohydrates help you relax via their amino acid tryptophan, which makes serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. This explains why a mopey mood is lifted by pasta and cookies, and why in one study PMS-prone women who sipped a high-carb solution perked up quickly. Ditto for the folks suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, who are bummed by winter's darkened days -- a combo of sitting under lights and chowing carbos did the trick.
Cravings for food that will increase serotonin levels also explains addictions like chocolate, and in my case, saut?ed onions. Mood food guru Jean Carper prescribes an onion snack for a sedative, and garlic for a picker-upper in an excerpt from her book Food -- Your Miracle Medicine (HarperCollins, $14).
And while chocaholics need no proof the delicious drug works, they'll find the science behind it in EATING WELL (it's got caffeine for a light buzz and a lovely carbo combo of calming butterfat and serotonin-sparking sugar) and in the Chocolate Trivia site, which notes that researchers credit chocolate's phenylethylamine for creating sensations that are akin to being in love. So who needs relationships? Hand over that KitKat bar!