The taste of beer -- without the inclusion of alcohol -- may be enough to trigger the release of a pleasure hormone, dopamine, in the brain, according to a study released yesterday.
"We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain's reward centers," the study's lead author, David Kareken of the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
In this particular study, 49 men were given sips of beer that were small enough to taste, but not large enough to cause an effect with alcohol. The researchers evaluated fluctuations in neurotransmitters, finding that just a taste was enough to increase levels of dopamine. Dopamine is associated with feelings of well-being and also with memory and decision-making.
But beer isn't even close to the only food that triggers the brain's centers for reward and pleasure -- a distinction that isn't just reserved for alcohol. Here are some health foods that can also help:
"Emerging research in the fields of neuroscience and nutrition show that people who eat a diet of modern processed foods have increased levels of depression, anxiety, mood swings, hyperactivity, and a wide variety of other mental and emotional problems," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-ramsey-md/food-mental-health_b_1703007.html" target="_blank">wrote HuffPost blogger and psychiatrist</a> Dr. Drew Ramsey. One way to combat the ill effects of a processed diet is simply to start with a whole, unprocessed one. Cooking one's own meals out of natural ingredients is a good way to take care of the body and the brain.
Salmon and other fatty fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA could play a role in overall mood and well-being. Research shows that these fats have a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16741213" target="_blank">protective effect against depression</a> and in one study helped reduce the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21784145" target="_blank">anxiety experienced by medical students</a>. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s include walnuts and flaxseed, which are both high in ALA, which the body may partially convert to DHA and EPA, <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3/" target="_blank">according to a Harvard report</a>. <blockquote><strong>Clarification:</strong> An earlier version of this article stated that walnuts and flaxseeds are direct sources of DHA and EPA.</blockquote>
Almonds are high in a <a href="http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/tyrosine-000329.htm" target="_blank">compound called tyrosine</a>, which is one of the building blocks for the production of dopamine and other mood-associated neurotransmitters. That means eating a handful of these healthful nuts will not only improve cardiovascular health, thanks to their richness in fiber and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids -- it could also help your mood. Other tyrosine rich foods include: chicken, turkey and cheese.
Apples are rich in quercetin, a compound that <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/08/cookinglight.food.boost.mind/index.html" target="_blank">defends your brain cells</a> from free-radicals that can damage the lining of neurons, CNN reported.
Everyone knows that chocolate is delicious and full of antioxidants. But it can also<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3397353/?tool=pubmed" target="_blank"> help to reduce anxiety</a>. In those who suffer from anxiety, milk chocolate was found to help reduce symptoms. For those with no history of anxiety, dark chocolate was most helpful, the study reported.
These seeds are another source of tyrosine, and are also rich in heart-protective vitamin E and selenium.
Soy is another rich source of tyrosine, but also provides a heart-healthy dose of protein and can help benefit <a href="http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/6-health-benefits-of-soy-milk.html#b" target="_blank">everything from bone health to reducing symptoms of menopause</a>.