The Indigenous Secrets of Happy Food

Ngone Bugle Girl from Panama with a Wild Guanabana

Tell me please: What are SECRETS OF HAPPINESS?

According to the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica is the #1 Happiest Place on Earth! I love this quote from the study:

People living in Costa Rica have higher well being than the residents of many rich nations including the USA and the UK, and live longer than people in the USA.

Panama has repeatedly been the NUMBER ONE SPOT to retire overseas according to International Living. Check out this quote:

International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index is hitting the presses. And in the top spot: Panama.I should say: Panama again. Because this tiny powerhouse has topped this index more times than any other country.

And this year, International Living is going over the top promoting Mexico as the up and coming best place to retire saying:

The U.S.’s southern neighbor consistently makes International Living’s list of the 5 top countries to live in. Mexico boasts a great quality of life, natural beauty, modern infrastructure, and safety.

I lived and traveled in Mexico and Central America for the last five years. My heart is overwhelmed by the beauty of the people and the places I discovered there. I will admit, when I first arrived in some of the small local villages at the beginning of my adventure, I was in a bit of culture shock by what I perceived as poor living conditions. But, as time went on, I found myself having a profound perception change. Though the vast majority of people live in simple homes, don’t drive cars, don’t have fancy jobs, and spend a lot of time seemingly doing nothing, they are far happier than people from most developed countries.

So, why are they so happy?

For the next few weeks, I am going to be writing on this subject. Stay turned because I believe we have some amazing lessons to learn from these wonderful people.

To start with, I want to talk about one of the most foundational things to life…FOOD.

What is the happiness connection between Latin American FOOD and HAPPINESS?

Well, as you might guess, first of all, Latin Americans do not eat a ton of processed food. Go to the market — walk there — and take a look at the fresh fruits and veggies just begging to go home with you. You will find super-fruits hailed as the best new thing in Western medical research — like soursop and lychee — lining the shelves. I know its easy for us to say, yes, they get fresher fruit…yes they get super-fruits…and woe to me because I cannot get these things. And in part I know that’s true.

But, I want to let you in on a secret.

There are easy changes you can make in your own diet that reflect the magic of the happifying foods in Latin America.

A few popular Latin American foods that are easy to get at home include; avocados, bananas, mangoes, papaya, pineapples, coconut, cabbage, potatoes, chilies, limes, cilantro, black beans, tomatoes, eggs, chicken, coffee, vanilla, and chocolate.

So lets take a closer look at these popular foods. After doing some research, I think you will be delighted at what I discovered.

HAPPINESS FOOD QUOTIENT

AVOCADOS: Did you know avocados are rich in choline which boosts your brains natural serotonin, which in turns leaves you feeling relaxed and happy!

BANANAS: Bananas are a super-food for happiness. Not only are they high in potassium which helps reduce stress, but they are also a great source of tryptophan which helps your brain produce serotonin and melatonin making you feel happy and helping you get a good nights sleep. AND..they are high in magnesium, which for generations has been taken by people suffering from depression and is traditionally considered by modern scientists as the ORIGINAL CHILL-PILL!

BLACK BEANS: High in magnesium, high in potassium AND high in tyrosine, black beans have it ALL going for them.

CABBAGE: Cabbage has natural endorphin-boosting properties and its full of vitamin B6 which helps reduce the stress hormone cortisal!

CHICKEN: Chicken is high in tyrosine which boosts your dopamine levels and helps you get your happy back. Maybe this was the real reason your mother made chicken soup when you were sick!

CHILIES: Full of something called capsaisan. That’s what makes them hot! But did you know it also releases endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers and actually leaves you feeling “high”? No wonder its so easy to get addicted to them!

CILANTRO: Not only is cilantro high in potassium which improves your mood and acts as a mild sedative, but it also is great for detoxing your body of heavy metals and, believe it or not, helps increase your intuition!

COCONUT and COCONUT OIL: Depression has recently been linked to inflammation and coconut is a great inflammation reducer. It’s also metabolism and energy booster making it an effective food to help make you and KEEP you happy!

COFFEE: There is a REASON you drink that cup of morning brew. Did you know that in a recent study women who drank 3–4 cups of coffee showed 15–20 percent less tendency toward depression? In fact, coffee increases neurotransmitters in your brain like noradrenaline, serotonin and even that lovely stuff we call dopamine!

CHOCOLATE: Yes, chocolate is magical! Not sugary processed chocolate, but real raw cacao is packed with something called anandamide. Guess who its closest relative is? THC! Raw cacao’s fancy name is theobroma cacao which literally means “food of the gods, cacao,” and it was originally reserved only for kings! It packs a punch when it comes to the dopamine effect, promotes longevity, and has been the secret, sacred drink of many indigenous people in Central American and Mexico for generations!

EGGS: Did you know eggs are high in BOTH tyrosine and tryptophan? Tyrosine helps your brain produce dopamine and tryptophan promotes serotonin production. What a great happiness combo! Note: Its the YOLK of the egg that gives you this benefit, so make sure you eat the yummy yellow part to get that good feeling.

LIME: Super C! A powerful stress reducer and reducer of that hormone cortisol that makes you feel like you are being chased by a tiger!

MANGO: Mangos are a great source of tryptophan that lovely compound that helps your brain relax, de-stress and produce tranquility promoting serotonin.

PAPAYA: Surprisingly high in vitamin C which reduces the stress hormone cortisol!

PINEAPPLES: Pineapples are packed with bromeline, a powerful anti-inflammatory and natural pain reducer. Get rid of inflammation and pain and increase your sense of well being.

POTATES: Potatoes give you a natural rise in your insulin level, a gentle and healthy one that actually creates conditions perfect for your brain to better absorb the all important tryptophan that gives you a rise in serotonin that leaves you feeling relaxed and happy =).

TOMATOES: Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a phyto-nutrient that keeps stress at bay, helps repair brain cells, and reduces inflammation. They are also high in vitamin C which reduces that stress hormone cortisol. Studies show that eating a tomato a day can reduce depression by up to 52 percent!

VANILLA: Not only is this sweet bean from an orchid flower an aphrodisiac, but it works as a natural sedative reducing inflammation and providing relief from anxiety, anger, and restlessness. It lowers blood pressure and brings a feeling of calm, lifts your mood, and literally has a tranquilizing effect on your brain!

NOTICE WHAT’S MISSING HERE?

sugar………….

Traditional Latin American diets are very low in sugar. You will find amazing looking pastries at the panaderia on every street corner, but one bite will show you the enormous difference in sugar content. And aside from these lightly sweet breads, most Latin American’s don’t really eat any sugar at all. Some add it to their coffee along with milk (not cream and definitely not the fake stuff I am so guilty of using) but that is about the only other time they use sugar. In fact, dessert is not even found on most local menus and when it is it usually consists of fruits.

A dear friend of mine who recently moved to Mexico’s Pacific coast recently updated her FB status with this comment:

My flavor pallet towards sweets has changed since I moved to Mexico. The pan dulces and cookies here are much less sweet and initially I missed the extra sugar. Last night I made traditional Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies and they were soooo sweet, I almost couldn’t eat them. Almost. Thanks, Tangi Davis

I am utterly convinced that our general sense of happiness is powerfully affected by our life-style and that we have so much to learn from the happy-go-lucky people of Mexico and Central America. FOOD, while enormously important, is only the tip of the iceberg.

Stay tuned for more unraveling of the secrets of happiness. There is a cookbook in the works full of recipes that will increase your happiness quotient, yes! But there are a lot of other, just as important secrets soon to be revealed too!

For more on the secrets of happiness according to the indigenous people of Central America, go to www.thehappifyproject.com

Here’s to Happiness!

laura

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