Even though you might consider food your adversary (we're talking to you, french fries), if you use it right, it can be your most powerful ally. Let these foods help you out of a jam when...
You've got a big day at work
Eggs over easy with a side of bacon or ham
The protein in this power meal will keep you feeling full throughout the morning. A University of Illinois study reports that people who eat more protein and less carbs at each meal find it easier to stick to a diet than those who eat more carbs and less protein. Protein is satiating and may also boost calorie burn, the study's authors say. Plus, when you digest eggs, protein fragments are produced that can prevent your blood vessels from narrowing, which may help keep your blood pressure from rising. In fact, Canadian scientists found in a lab study that the hotter the eggs, the more potent the proteins. And frying eggs sends their temperature soaring.
You're caught in stop-and-go traffic
Sugar-free chewing gum
In a British study, people who chewed gum while taking math, memory, and concentration tests reported an average 13 percent drop in stress. The study's authors believe that the act of chewing might lead to subconscious associations with positive social settings (like mealtimes), which may reduce tension. (Just don't actually swallow it, okay?) Sugar-free gum has the additional benefit of knocking off bacteria, which can multiply in your mouth when you're stressed or dehydrated.
You look in the mirror and think,
"That laugh line wasn't there yesterday, was it?"
A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people with a high intake of olive oil showed fewer wrinkles than those with a high intake of butter. The reason: monounsaturated fats, which are found in abundance in olive oil. So drizzle some olive oil on your salad, and if that's not convenient, grab a side of guacamole; avocados have the same monounsaturated fats as olive oil, plus plenty of fiber and healthy B vitamins.
You need to...to...focus!
Researchers in Cincinnati found that periodic whiffs of peppermint increased people's concentration on and performance of tasks requiring sustained attention. (Sniff: "I can do this.") Keep a few bags of peppermint tea in your desk, and think of it as
a scientific improvement over the alternative: British researchers discovered that sleepy people who downed a sugary, caffeinated drink like soda had slower reaction times and more lapses in attention after 80 minutes than those who drank a sugar-free beverage.
You're facing an afternoon-long meeting
Grilled salmon with spinach and carrots
This meal is scientifically proven to prevent doodling and drooling-two potentially career-crushing side effects of soporific assemblies. Stay awake effortlessly by grabbing a seafaring sidekick for lunch. Salmon contains tyrosine, an amino acid that your brain uses to make dopamine and norepinephrine-neurochemicals that keep you alert. The brain-boosting omega-3s in salmon may also help tame your neurotic tendencies. (Opt for wild salmon when you can find it; it's significantly lower in persistent organic pollutants, aka POPs, that have been linked to obesity, and it's significantly higher in omega-3s.) Halibut and trout are good alternatives to salmon. And spinach provides the B vitamin folate, used by the brain to make the mood controllers serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. A lack of folate has been linked to depression. Add carrots: Beta-carotene may help reduce the effects of oxidative stress on your memory.
It's T-minus 3 weeks until you'll be lounging on a beach in Belize
In a 2009 report from the American Society of Nutrition, scientists found that exercisers who drank green tea lost twice as much weight as those who didn't, and had the greatest declines in total abdominal fat.
You just finished an intense workout
University of Georgia scientists revealed that taking a caffeine supplement (equal to 2 cups of coffee) after exercise reduces muscle soreness more than pain relievers can. Caffeine blocks a chemical that activates pain receptors.
You just finished an intense workout and now you want reward
According to Indiana University researchers, the ratio of carbs to protein in chocolate milk is ideal for muscle recovery and growth.
Aunt Edna is dragging you to the all-you-can-eat buffet
Discipline ain't easy when second helpings are free. But in a study at Penn State, researchers found that those who ate an apple 15 minutes before lunch consumed a total of 15 percent fewer calories than those who drank apple juice, ate applesauce, or had nothing at all.
Your PMS threatens those around you
A pinch of this exotic spice may help tame the monthly beast
by increasing levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which can plummet before your period. In a recent study published in BJOG, a journal from the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, women who took 15 milligrams of saffron extract in the morning and evening saw a significant dip in irritability, fatigue, and depression.
You're on a hot date
Sushi for dinner and dark chocolate for dessert
Salmon and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids that keep sex-hormone production humming along. Ginger is a natural blood thinner, so it aids overall circulation, increasing blood flow to your hot spots. As for the chocolate, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it contains a compound called phenylethylamine, which releases the same endorphins triggered by sex and increases the feelings of attraction between two people.
Caveat: White chocolate won't do the trick. It has no cocoa solids, so it lacks the methylxanthines (caffeine and theobromine) found in dark and milk chocolate. These stimulants can make you feel more energetic and alert, and cocoa solids also hold the heart-healthy antioxidants that make darker chocolates so appealing to your cardiologist.
You're in the mood, he's in the mood, and you want to make a baby
And not the low-fat variety. If you add one serving of full-fat dairy to your diet per day, such as whole milk on your cereal instead of skim, you can actually increase your chances of getting pregnant, according to the landmark Nurse's Health Study at Harvard University. And because the calcium in dairy fights weight gain, you're receiving another boost for conceiving: Maintaining a healthy weight ups your chances for getting pregnant.
Reprinted with permission of Rodale Inc. 2010.