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Eating Carbohydrates Over the Holidays Can Help Improve Your Mood

December 28, 1989|JEAN CARPER | Carper is a medical and nutrition writer

A holiday cookie may be just what your body needs this time of year to lift your mood. So says Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a psychiatrist and depression expert at the National Institute of Mental Health.

He finds that about 35 million Americans tend to get depressed during the winter because of changes in brain chemistry related to decreased sunlight. He also finds that eating sweets and starches--carbohydrates--during winter helps relieve their depression.

"Carbohydrates seem to energize them, put them in a better mood," he says.

In tests, within two hours after downing six cookies containing a hefty 105 grams of carbohydrate, depressed patients perked up, he says. They had more energy and less fatigue, tension and depression. In contrast, eating the cookies sent normal subjects into a state of lethargy.

Rosenthal's advice: If you crave carbohydrates in winter, eat them. It's probably your body's way of fighting depression. Also try less fattening, more nutritious high-carbohydrate foods, like dried beans, pasta, cereal, bread and crackers. They can also combat the winter blues, he says.

Vitamin C may be better for your heart and arteries than anyone suspected. In new studies, Balz Frei at the University of California at Berkeley, found that Vitamin C was amazingly effective in zapping dangerous molecules that promote heart disease.

Frei explains that destructive molecules in the body, called "free radicals," attack blood fats, helping trigger the formation of artery-clogging plaque. But in laboratory tests, he found that Vitamin C can wipe out these free radicals before they cause damage. Vitamin C completely annihilated 100% of the free radicals implicated in plaque build-up. Vitamin E, on the other hand, wiped out only 70% of the dangerous free radicals.

"I was quite surprised," says Frei. "It means Vitamin C is crucial in helping prevent arterial damage leading to heart attacks and stroke."

His advice is to get at least 150 to 250 milligrams of Vitamin C per day--the amount in two to three large glasses of orange juice. That's how much it takes, he says, to keep cells saturated with Vitamin C and safe from free-radical harm.

If you drink rum, make it light--not dark--in color. Or choose light vodka and gin over darker Scotch and whiskey.

That distinction may mean the difference between getting or not getting throat or nose cancer. That was the surprising find of Boston University scientists who studied the drinking habits of 384 patients with the two cancers, all of whom were also heavy smokers. Smoking and drinking are prime causes of such cancers.

However, those who drank dark-colored distilled liquors regularly were four times more apt to get a particular type of throat cancer than imbibers of light-colored liquors. That's because the alcohol is not the main cause of the cancer, say researchers. it's the non-alcoholic chemicals that give certain distilled liquors a darker color that are the most potent cancer-causing agents. These form when the liquor is aged.

The researchers found hardly any cancer-causing effect from light liquors alone.

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