Carbohydrate-rich processed foods (such as cookies, bread and pasta) can relax some people, although how this works is a subject of debate. Conventional wisdom holds that eating simple carbs allows tryptophan -- the amino-acid building block of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin -- into the brain, resulting in a higher level of serotonin, which induces a calm feeling. The problem with this theory, however, is that even a small amount of protein in a meal severely restricts passage of tryptophan into the brain. Some experts attribute the positive feelings you may get from eating quickly metabolized simple carbs to boosts in blood sugar or the release of endorphins in the brain.

Regardless of the mechanism, carbs from processed foods are nothing more than a quick fix. "You might experience a temporary calm feeling after eating a high-carb, low-protein meal and perhaps get a boost in serotonin," says Eva Selhub, M.D., medical director for Lighten Up, a -stress-reduction program in Chestnut Hill, Mass. "But effects could just as easily be due to changes in blood sugar. At any rate, it's short-lived."
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