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The Food-Mood Connection

Eat your way to happiness.

The Food-Mood Connection

Food devotees, including chefs, nutritionists and food writers, will tell you that how we eat feeds our well-being more than a lot of us probably realize. Learning to love, or at least appreciate, the process of eating — including shopping for and preparing your food — can seriously up your happiness quotient.

Wasabi ’n Ginger Salmon Sandwiches

The salmon is rich in feel-good omega-3s, and the wasabi has the perfect kick for giving your taste buds a happy boost.

1/4 cup fat-free mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste
8 thin (1 ounce) slices from a loaf of bakery French or sourdough bread
8 ounces cooked salmon, divided into four equal servings
4 thin slices red onion
16 thin slices red pepper
4 tablespoons pickled sliced ginger
1 cup baby spinach or baby wild greens

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix mayonnaise and wasabi paste. Start with 1/4 teaspoon of the paste and add more to suit your taste. Set aside. Place 4 slices of bread on a flat surface, and spread each with 1 tablespoon of the mayonnaise-wasabi mixture. Top with 2 ounces salmon, 1 slice onion separated and evenly spread over salmon, 4 slices red pepper, 1 tablespoon pickled ginger, and 1/4 cup greens. Top with remaining 4 slices of bread. (Makes 4 sandwiches.) From Elizabeth Somer’s "Eat Your Way to Happiness."

We are also, in large part, what we eat and what we don’t eat. Each day, we learn more about how interlinked food and well-being are.

“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” says Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, PhD, professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at the UCLA School of Medicine, who has spent years studying the effects of food on the brain.

“Diet has the potential to alter our brain health and mental function,” he says. While eating fruit and granola for breakfast isn’t going to cure clinical depression or lower your credit card debt, choosing foods high in nutrition on a regular basis will positively impact your body and consequently your emotional health. Ultimately, feeding our bodies a well-balanced diet enables us to be more emotionally balanced, which in turn leads to increased happiness.

MORE: Five Healthy Snacks Under 150 Calories

7 Smart Tips
1. Find your inner Julia Child (only without the butter, please). It’s true that grab-and-go foods and dining out offer conveniences that can definitely make you happy (no grocery shopping, no prep, no cleanup, and time to chat with your partner, family or friends). But when you rarely prepare your own meals, experts say you miss out on a host of feel-good opportunities.

“The process of selecting and preparing our food is just as important as the eating part,” says Harriet Siew, a culinary producer for the Food Network. Siew says that people are often pleasantly surprised to discover that spending time browsing at a farmers’ market is a lot more uplifting than pushing your cart up the aisle in the supermarket. “A farmers’ market allows you to be outdoors, where you’re encouraged to touch and smell the food, and interact directly with the vendors and farmers, and learn where the food is grown or made. Being with others and feeling a sense of connection to what you’re eating can brighten your mood.”

Meanwhile, cooking allows for a total sensory experience. “There’s a whole mental and physical experience that comes with engaging your senses that you might not even realize is happening,” says Siew. “You touch the food, hear it sizzle on the stove, smell the aromas as it cooks. The bonus is enjoying food you’ve prepared yourself with people you love.”

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