Exploring the Connection
Comfort food, we love it. It makes us feel better when we are sad, makes us feel loved when we are lonely and makes us feel stronger when we are sick. It reminds us of home, mom, love and warmth… basically everything that can uplift our spirits and make us feel happier. The relationship between food and happiness is not superficial in the least… it goes deep.
Serotonin is the mood hormone which controls the feelings of happiness and well-being. It balances mood swings, sending signals to your brain of contentment and satisfaction. Certain types of food can increase or decrease the production of serotonin which is produced by the amino acid (protein) tryptophan. Well, I can imagine that you’re probably thinking “now that’s easy, all we need to do is eat foods containing tryptophan…”
Tryptophan is easily found in meat, fish, eggs, cheese, soy, nuts, most milk products, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. and could well be a part of our diet and we should be prancing about like dappled ponies in a fairytale land. Unfortunately it’s easier said than done.
Tryptophan is a type of protein which is one of the 9 essential amino acids. That means that your body cannot produce it and has to be ingested every day. These same foods contain other amino acids, iron, and pyridoxin (B6) as well and the balance of absorption of these into our system is often lop-sided. To add to that, tryptophan has to often compete with the absorption of the other amino acids reaching the brain at the same time. Therefore it may be difficult to quickly raise the levels of serotonin.
Many a times our daily requirement is not absorbed by the body and that’s when the levels of serotonin get disturbed – we face mood swings, bouts of depression when it’s longer, and fits of anger when there is a sharp dip. Therefore it is essential that we keep the levels of tryptophan at its optimum levels. The question is… how do we do that?
The good news is that the absorption of tryptophan is increased by eating carbs. Eating carbs causes a rise in insulin in your system and that promotes a larger window for the amino acid absorption into the heart and muscles, making it more likely that tryptophan can cross the brain barrier and boost levels of serotonin.
I can hear most dieters and weight watchers saying this is the perfect situation of sleeping with the enemy. But that’s only because we have labelled carbs as the villain. The fact remains that for proper and wholesome ingestion of protein we do need carbohydrates. All we need to do is find a balance between the carbs, protein and fat intake within every meal we take, and maybe a little more when we feel down. So don’t be too hard on yourself and grab a bowl of oats (complex carbs) to give you the booster that you need.
Mood busters with food can only happen when we crave for them and don’t get them. Foods that are known to contribute to the feeling of lethargy and acidity can be so only when they are consumed in excess. In general, for most people, food is associated with feelings of satisfaction, gratitude and happiness. Certain foods get associated with certain memories and with feeling loved and feeling cared for. Then why seek divorce from a relationship whose only goal is to keep you happy? Seek the perfect balance instead and enjoy the cheese on your toast while you eat that omelette.
Bhagyashree Dassani – Born a princess, the actress created history with “Maine Pyaar Kiya”. She has balanced her career in movies/TV and home and family while not giving up her intense passion for travel, food and health. She is also a certified nutritionist, registered with the British Nutrition Council.