There are certain types of food that make us feel good about ourselves, cheer us up and even help us fall in love (why give chocolates to your lover otherwise?). DonÊ¼t have them and you will fall into the depths of despair.
Doctors, nutritionists and psychiatrists all say that eating patterns can impact on your mood in more ways than you can realise. With long work hours taking a heavy toll on sleep and diet, the first repercussion is the rise in stress levels. “Improper eating habits often lead to nutritional imbalances as the diet fails to meet minimum nutritional requirements.
Not only does it threaten general health and physical fitness, it also leads to physiological problems,” says a leading dietary consultant. DonÊ¼t eat so many chillies. They are hot so you may become hottempered…
Mood swings, spells of depression, periods of gloom. What is eating you? Are 12-hour work days, umpteen cups of tea and snack binges taking their toll on your mental make-up? Feeling grumpy? Order salmon.
Suffering from loneliness? Have an avocado. Stressed out? Bite into a lemon cheesecake, advise nutritionists!
Eat an ice cream and cool your head… Feeling depressed and stressed out? Have a cup of coffee – statements which are proverbially true yet under speculation. Can food really influence your mental state and performance?
Experts, for some time now, have tried to find an answer. You may have noticed a boost in your thinking ability after consuming a cup of tea, coffee or a cola. This is because of the presence of caffeine in these drinks which halts the depressive effect of adenosine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. So your nervous system stays steadfast and you think clearly.
Indulge in Food
In frigid winter weather, thereÊ¼s a good reason to indulge in foods that arry some extra kick. But is it true, as has long been held, that spicy foods not only heat you up, but also speed up the metabolism?
Over the years, various studies have examined the claim and suggested that certain spices can in fact increase metabolism rate by raising the body temperature, though to what extent and for how long is unclear. Capsaicin, the compound that gives red chilli its powerful kick, creates the largest bump in heat generation, which helps burn more calories immediately after a meal. Black pepper and ginger have similar effects.
Generally, studies have shown that on average, a meal containing a spicy dish, like a bowl of chilli, can temporarily increase metabolism by about eight per cent over a personÊ¼s normal rate, an amount considered fairly negligible. But besides a slight uptick in metabolism, spicy foods may also increase feelings of satiety.
The connection between feelings and food is all about how the brain functions. The brain communicates through chemical substances passed from one nerve cell to the next.
These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are made in the brain from the food we eat. The transmitters that are more sensitive to diet and influential in affecting moods are norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin among others.
Dopamine and norepinephrine are chemicals that create alertness. When produced, we think and react more quickly, feel more motivated.
Serotonin is a calming and relaxing chemical. It produces elevation mood. Its functions include sleep regulation and anxiety reduction.
Catechola mines control the arousal and anxiety states. Another important neurotrans mitter is acetylcholine, essential in memory formation and maintenance. All the neurotransmitters are manufactured from the amino acids that come from our diet.
Therefore, the speculation that right foods can keep you motivated or reduce stress and place you in the best of your moods, is worth trying out.
Foods that make you alert: Fish, shellfish, poultry (without skin), mutton, low-fat cottage cheese, skim or low-fat milk, dahi, dried peas and beans. They contain protein, are low in fat, and have limited carbohydrates. During midday, your brainÊ¼s supply of dopamine and norepine phrine begins to wane. Protein replenishes it.
Foods that make you calm: Low-glycemic carbohydrates like brown rice, dhalia, wholegrain, rye-bread, sourdough rye bread, roti, sweet potato, wheat pastas induce a calming effect, but do not drag you down. High-glycemic carbohydrates like sugar, rice, white bread, idli, wheat crackers, baked potato, pasta produce high performance serotonin that really slows you down.
Foods that make you smart: Eggs, milk, liver, pork, prunes, oatmeal. These contain choline that enhances the memory. If you have a presentation or exam in the morning, make yourself an omelette for breakfast. Prunes, which contain enormous quantities of antioxidants, can actually help treat memory loss.
Foods that make you attentive: Lemons, apples, grape juice, avocados, broccoli. These contain boron, which is responsible for hand-eye coordination, attention and short-term memory. The smell of lemons can induce a feeling of alertness.
Food that make you energised: Oranges, apples, soya milk, yoghurt. These have slow-digesting carbohydrates and supply a steady source of fuel. Sunflower seeds contain magnesium which helps keep the heart steady and bones strong. Tuna contains the protein needed to repair muscles.
Foods that make you happy: Salmon or any other cold-water fish contains the mood-elevating vitamin B12 as well as omega-3 fatty acids that may assist in preventing depression. Bananas, which contain vitamin B6, and chicken liver, high in folic acid, also make you feel good.
Foods that make you sexy: An amino acid called L-arginine found in nuts and sesame seeds enhances blood flow in the genital areas. Eggs and meat also contain small amounts of L-arginine. Chocolate releases pleasure-enhancing endorphins into the brain and also contains phenylethylamine, a stimulant associated with love and sexual attraction.
Says a neurologist, “Eating pleasure is related to endorphins, the natural painkillers in the brain. Also, certain pleasure is related to specific chemicals in the brain causing mood alterations. For example, chocolates or cocoa have been known to cause hyperactivity in children.”
“Carbohydrates play a major role in determining your mood,” asserts American research scientist Dr Judith Wurtman. She has found that a diet rich in carbohydrates can help you feel anxiety-free and relaxed. “When you eat a protein-rich meal,” she explains, “the protein is broken down into components like trypotophan which is waiting to get into the brain.
But when you eat a carbohydrate snack or meal, insulin rushes in and along with the carbohydrates the lingering amino acid also slips in. It is converted into serotonin in the brain and elevates mood.”
And, what about sugar? Does it really make you alert? “Sugar produces a temporary high,” says a Mumbai-based nutritionist. “However, as soon as the levels of glucose plummet in the blood, one experiences fatigue and irritability. Even additives such as artificial food colours can give rise to mood swings.”
According to studies conducted at the Human Research Center on Aging, Boston, USA, confusion, depression and anxiety may result from dietary inadequacies. “Even lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet can make you lethargic,” opines a Mumbai based dietitian. The fall in protein and sodium levels in the body can lead to mood swings and depression, says Khosla. “Several studies have confirmed that an imbalance in the ratio of essential fatty acids leads to depressive symptoms,” she adds.
You are what you eat. That remains the premise of Ê»macrobioticsÊ¼, which counts John Lennon and Yoko Ono amongst, perhaps, its most famous followers. Yet, this concept, insist practitioners, is neither a diet nor a fad. “Macrobiotics is a machine to harness and nurture your mind, body and spirit. It enhances your health and helps you follow our dreams,” says Tarika Ahuja, one of its few Delhi-based practitioners. According to Ahuja, macrobiotics is a holistic practice where you go beyond the nutrients in the food and decode it (food) on the basis of its energetics. the reasoning: “What you eat affects your emotions and general well-being.”
It is common knowledge that certain foods may influence your moods, or say, after a heavy meal, the blood flow is directed towards the digestive system. This increases peristalsis in the stomach making you feel restless. That is the reason why we advise light meals at night.
There has been an intensified interest in the field of nutrition today. So far, though the effect of certain foods has been highlighted only in the case of nutritional deficiencies, the fact remains that diet may have a profound influence in how the brain handles its tasks, be it mood, memory or motivation.