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Fork in the Road: Steady on, mate!

Keeping an even keel in the midst of the winter blahs
Simple things right from your kitchen shelves can help you boost your mood and keep your focus.

Maybe it’s the endless grey waves of storm after winter storm rolling in. Or the joys of another gridlock on the Sea to Sky Highway. Or maybe you’ve simply run out of shock absorbers—with the pandemic, with the bad news all over the news, with any disruption, large or small, and no more Winter Olympics to distract us from it all.

Any number of things can put you right off your mood balance at the best of times, but sometimes the happiest solution lies right on our kitchen shelves.

We often forget that many common foods are perfect for lifting spirits without spirits, or mellowing a cranky mood when too much winter or not enough sun leaves you feeling sad or SAD. 

Here are a few of my favourites, all way cheaper and easier on you and the planet than a getaway to a sun-filled resort.

Go bananas for a lack of drama

My mom loves to tell the story about the two little old ladies (they must have been really old) who were sitting behind her on the bus, talking about bananas. ‘Oh, you have to eat more of them—they’re so good for your nerves because they’re full of phosphorous,’ one said. ‘No, no, it’s not phosphorous, dear,’ the other replied confidently. ‘It’s phosphorescence!’

Not to upstage those two old gals, but it’s really the potassium in bananas (they knew it was one of those “p” words) that’s good for your nerves. And other than possibly being disappointed over not glowing in the dark after eating one, you’ll be glad to know that bananas truly are good for you and your mood, possibly explaining why people tried smoking banana skins back in the ’60s.

Your average banana contains about 450 mg of potassium, a mineral vital for healthy blood pressure and heart function, one you need about 1300 mg a day of. Bananas also help maintain normal fluid and electrolyte balance, ergo feeding mashed ripe banana to kids who’ve suffered an upset tummy. They’re also good sources of fibre and contain a lot of vitamin B6, which boosts the immune system, something we could all use right now.

Bonus: bananas make a great natural antacid, so next time you’re suffering a bit of heartburn, try one. And if you’ve never tried organic bananas, treat yourself. They’re way tastier and grown in way more varieties than the usual commercial ones.

Green tea will fill you with glee

I used to stop at a small Japanese restaurant and buy myself a nice bowl of steamy hot udon noodle soup after night school. The owner was always quick to point out that the green tea he served wouldn’t keep me awake, but it would relax me while keeping me sharp for the drive home.

It seems like an odd contradiction, but if you’ve ever been really wound up or stressed out (should I make that “when” not “if”?), have you noticed how your brain is buzzing and you can’t really concentrate or be productive?

Buddhist and Zen monks have used green tea for centuries to keep themselves calm but alert during meditation, and hopefully avoid a cuff from the master for nodding off. Green and other teas, with their strong antioxidant properties, have also now been scientifically proven to be strong deterrents against some forms of cancer. 

One of my favourite green teas is genmaicha, a Japanese blend with roasted rice added that gives a wonderful nutty highlight to the astringent green tea taste. Or check out Whistler’s own Ranger Teacrafters. They offer dozens of amazing green tea possibilities, including ritual grade matcha and the herbal tisane Spirit Soar whose name says it all. 

As for the claim that green tea won’t keep you awake, you have my word. If I have even a tablespoon of coffee in the morning, I can’t sleep that night. Green tea has never bothered me. As for keeping me alert and sharp of mind, it depends on who you ask, but at least I haven’t fallen asleep at the wheel, knock on a wooden tea box.

Ginseng: can it make you sing?

An Oregon State University study concludes that the claim that ginseng puts you in a good mood has no conclusion. How Zen.

But the same study also shows that 7.7 per cent of participants who took 400 mg of ginseng a day said they experienced enhanced moods. While that’s more than those who took placebos, or less ginseng, it’s also within the margin of error as to render it, well, inconclusive.

However, just to confuse you more, another report in the American Family Physician indicates that Panax ginseng, also called true ginseng or Asian ginseng, was effective in boosting both the immune system and psychological functioning, with the caveat that there was some conflicting evidence regarding the latter.

Yep, science can be contradictory, so you could always just go with my own observations, and those of the many farmers growing literally tonnes of ginseng near Kamloops. Either way, lots of evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, supports the magical mood properties of ginseng.

In fact, I’m sipping a nice cup of ginseng tea this moment while sucking on a green tea lozenge and winging the peel from the banana I’ve just finished into the garbage can. Life couldn’t be better. Or maybe it could… if only I had a nice big chunk of dark chocolate. 

As for more distractions, hang in there. March 4 sees the kickoff of the Winter Paralympics, which will be even more awe-inspiring.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who believes in the power of words, good food and young athletes.