For many the knowledge of food and mood is restricted to word of mouth and stigma. Consider turkey's apparent sleep inducing power. Many Thanksgiving dinners end with a nap or at the very least, droopy eyelids. Though the tryptophan in turkey seems to be the culprit, our sluggishness is really due to overeating. Though tryptophan does elevate the brain's sleep-inducing serotonin, it does so in very small amounts. The true cause? An overflow of mashed potatoes, stuffing, pie and alcohol which shifts blood away from the brain and down to the digestive tract.
The connection between food and mood is not black and white. Some foods are both healing and stressful. Caffeine and chocolate provide initial exhilaration. Caffeine improves focus and stimulates motivation. Pleasant, until the crash that follows. Chocolate also gives us mixed results. It is laden with sugar and fat, yet full of cell protecting, disease killing antioxidants. These are called flavanols. Two studies published in the Lancet suggest that these flavanols decrease LDL cholesterol, the “bad” type of cholesterol responsible for clogging arteries. Pure cocoa has the highest levels of flavanols while milk chocolate has the lowest.
The chemical responsible for chocolate's uplifting effect is called phenylethylamine (phenyl-ethyl-amine). This is an essential amino acid, which is a component of protein. So though phenylethylamine is scary to pronounce it's nothing to be afraid of, especially for expectant mothers.
An April 2004 article in New Scientist reports that stressed mothers who ate chocolate regularly throughout their pregnancy had happier babies. Two groups of women were studied before and after delivery, one group ate chocolate and the other abstained. Six months after delivery both groups were asked to rate their infant's behavior. The chocolate-crunching mothers reported having babies that smiled and laughed more. But before you stock up on Cadbury's bars, remember that tomatoes and fruit have as much or more of this happy chemical, and are far healthier. The key to gobbling benefits and not havoc is moderation. Most experts recommend 3-4 servings a week, ideally as a substitute for your regular dessert.
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