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Bananas make you happy

And other far-out, friendly food tips for these ‘back-to-normal’ times
Bananas can help improve sleep, reduce stress and increase relaxation—among other benefits.

Packing your kids’ school lunches? Packing your own as you head back to some semblance of normalcy, or what passes for it these days? 

Well, have I got a few tips for you that just might keep you, if not happy, at least a little happier, or more relaxed, as we all face off with that chronic low-grade anxiety burbling just under the surface every time we head to the grocery store, the school lobby, the bus, or just about any public place where we have to trust that strangers will be as careful with our well-being as we are with theirs. 

Some of these tips might not be new to you. We used to call some of them “comfort food” but since we’ve been forced into re-thinking the idea of comfort itself lately (as in, are you comfortable staying home, or does it make you feel trapped now?), maybe just regard them as pleasant reminders of foods that can make life itself a little more pleasant. 

They’re also friendly reminders that you are, indeed, what you eat. Still sipping one too many quarantinis? All jagged up on too much caffeine? What we choose to put inside ourselves can be as much an indicator of our own mood and state of mind as it is an impact on same.

It’s also helpful to have these friendly food tips all in one place. One less thing your poor scatterbrain has to scatter around after. (Now where did I put that clean mask…?)

Bananas are your new best anti-anxiety friend

How can you lose with a yummy, inexpensive fruit with such a Zen disposable wrapper, and whose bright yellow smile makes you feel better just seeing it? 

Bananas really can make you happy. 

They help you sleep better, reduce stress levels and, generally, make you feel more relaxed due to their high levels of potassium and magnesium—both good muscle relaxants. Bananas also contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which is converted to 5-HTP in the brain, a molecule which our bodies use to produce serotonin—sometimes called the “feel-good” chemical—and melatonin. Your body needs both of these to regulate sleep, cognition, mood, even behaviour. Low serotonin is associated with depression, anxiety, weight gain, sleep disorders and other disordered states of being. 

Sometimes people turn to 5-HTP in supplements since it’s not found directly in any food sources, but it’s easy to get too much of it, which can tip you backwards into more anxiety, shivering, or even serious health problems. Better to take things easy and natural. Just peel yourself a cheerful yellow banana or two, and your brilliantly engineered body will take things from there.  

I swear by bananas as very good friends when it comes to relieving leg cramps, especially at night. (Any food with lots of potassium, magnesium and calcium helps here, presuming other areas of your good health are in order). And many a student website touts their benefits when it comes to boosting brain sugar and subsequent brain power. 

SEEK Learning out of Australia, for one, cites them for their ability to enhance concentration, and to help students learn more efficiently. Tryptophan may help preserve memory function, and some scientific studies show that vitamin B6, which bananas also contain, helps memory function, too. Salmon, potatoes and tofu are good sources of B6 as well. 

These fun fruits are also good for your digestion (all that fibre) and lowering blood pressure. They’re even recommended for pregnant women to control morning sickness and for babies with upset tummies. 

Tummy upset? Morning sickness, albeit in a whole other sense? Sound familiar? 

We could all do with a banana or three.

Turkey and other fantastic, tryptophanic allies

Remember a few years back when health and consumer lifestyle media were touting turkey as “the” source of nice, relaxing tryptophan, and that’s why we all fell asleep after Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner? (Nah, all that booze and over-eating never had anything to do with it…) Yes, I’m happy to remind you in these Covidian times that turkey is a great source of lovely, calming tryptophan and a food friend to embrace. Bonus: lamb, rabbit and chicken are just as good, if not better meat sources. 

In a nutshell, (and you’ll find it in a lot of nuts including cashews, pistachios and almonds), tryptophan is an amino acid found in food. As mentioned earlier, it triggers the production of important molecules in our bodies, like serotonin and melatonin, which are essential for optimal sleep and mood, and the ability to concentrate and learn. 

I need both hands to count the number of people I know right now who are not sleeping well. That’s never fun at the best of times (knock on wood the phenomenon doesn’t hit me).  

Recommendations for tryptophan in your daily diet are 4 mg per kilogram of body weight, or 1.8 mg per pound per day. Just search around, using DuckDuckGo, that handy search engine that induces zero anxiety over your cookies being tracked, and you’ll find lots of info on good tryptophan sources. 

Besides nuts, turkey and other meats, amongst those topping most lists are seeds—pumpkin, squash, sunflower, sesame and chia; along with soya foods; cheese; fish (especially tuna, halibut and salmon); raw oats and oat bran; beans and lentils; and whole eggs. 

Now I can feel your wheels a-turnin’ as you plan some great, simple lunches and dinners that will keep your wheels—and those of your loved ones—well-oiled and smoothly running in the days ahead.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who’s been craving salmon, eggs and nuts lately.