Using Food to Manage Mood

No food will change your personality or alter the course of a mood disorder. But some may add a little lift or a small moment of calm to your day, increase your effectiveness at certain tasks, make you more alert, or give you a neat little push over the finish line.

Caution! Medicine at work

Some of the mood-altering chemicals in food interact with medicines. As you may have guessed, the two most notable examples are caffeine and alcohol.

I Caffeine makes painkillers such as aspirin and acetaminophen more effective. On the other hand, many over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers and cold medicines already contain caffeine. If you take the pill with a cup of java, you may increase your caffeine intake past the jitters stage.

I Alcohol is a no-no with most medicines because it increases the sedative or depressant effects of some drugs, such as antihistamines and painkillers, and alters the rate at which you absorb or excrete others.

Always ask your pharmacist about food/drug interactions (you can read more about this in Chapter 25) when you fill a prescription. For OTC products, read the label very carefully.

The watchword is balance:

I One cup of coffee in the a.m. is a pleasant push into alertness. Seven cups of coffee a day can make your hands shake.

I One alcohol drink is generally a safe way to relax. Three may be a disaster.

I A grilled chicken breast (white meat, no skin) for breakfast — yes, breakfast — on a day when you have to be on your toes before lunch can help make you sharp as a tack.

I Got an important lunch meeting? Order starches without fats or oils: pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil, no oil, no cheese; rice with veggies; rice with fruit. Your aim is to get the calming carbs without the high-fat food that slows thinking and makes you feel sleepy.

In this, as in other aspects of a healthy life, the point is to make sure that you use the tool (in this case, food), not the other way around.

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