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Book Review: 'Eat Your Way to Happiness' by Elizabeth Somer

February 27, 2010 | 10:14 am
EYWTH

Battling the blues? Put down that Prozac prescription and head for the pantry, says Elizabeth Somer, author of the new book "Eat Your Way to Happiness." It's time for a diet makeover.

Changing what and how you eat can dramatically improve your life, without the negative side effects of antidepressants, writes the registered dietitian and frequent morning TV show guest.

Somer says people who followed diet advice she gave in her 1995 book, "Food & Mood," have told her they've seen their energy increase, their memories improve, their PMS symptoms vanish, their extra weight drop off and even their depressions lift. (She emphasizes that people should always seek medical help for depression that lasts more than a month or is accompanied by other symptoms.)

In her new book, she shares some of their stories and offers updated nutritional information.

Included in "Happiness" is advice we hear from many quarters today: Eat a good breakfast; cut back on sugar, white flour and saturated fats; choose real food over processed food most of the time; exercise daily. But she also goes further, quantifying what we should aim for and including research to back up her claims.

For example, Somer writes that sugar today makes up 25% of calories in most American diets -- much of it coming from processed foods. But a diet in which even 9% of calories are from added sugar is a red flag for weight and health problems, she says, and too much sugar offers a temporary "high" that can end in fatigue and depression. The good news is that cutting back can bring immediate weight loss, mood improvements and increased energy. She says we should aim for no more than 6% of our calories from added sugar -- 30 grams, or 7 1/2 teaspoons, a day on a 2,000-calorie diet. (This doesn't include the sugar found in naturally sweet foods such as fruit.)

Somer lists a dozen "super mood foods" to include in our diets whenever possible. Nuts are in the No. 1 spot, and she recommends an ounce a day to raise metabolism, take the edge off hunger and help regulate blood sugar. Other must-eat foods include soy (a memory booster, she says), milk and yogurt, dark leafy greens and dark orange vegetables, broth soups (which help dieters feel satisfied on fewer calories, a secret to permanent weight loss), legumes, citrus and tart cherries (they contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep).

She spells out potential brain- and mood-boosting benefits of eating omega-3 fats, especially DHA, found in fatty fish ("Prozac from the sea"). She also goes into the downside of eating fatty fishes -- the mercury they may contain -- and gives DHA-fortified alternatives.

Somer offers tips for how to eat to sleep better (one is to eat a light dinner no less than three hours before bedtime) and work with, rather than fight, cravings. She discusses supplements, beverages and the right vices in which to indulge (good news for dark chocolate lovers). She outlines an ideal diet -- think fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, milk and soy, lean protein. Her book also includes recipes and a two-week kick-start diet plan.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "Eat Your Way to Happiness," Elizabeth Somer, Harlequin, $16.95

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