Food affects mood: True/False?

I’m not sure what brought about Chelsea Turner’s thoughtful frame of mind when she came up with this idea, but it could have been something she ate because what you eat can affect how you think and feel.

I’ve written before about how carbohydrates make you sleepy by increasing serotonin in the brain. But that’s only the beginning. Protein, for instance, decreases brain serotonin. And serotonin affects more than just sleep.

So those poor tormented souls who down a tub of ice cream or a family-size cake of chocolate to ease the pain may be on to something.

Serotonin is an example of a chemical neurotransmitter, one among many. Most people are aware of the electrical nature of the brain, having seen electrodes attached to heads by innumerable mad scientists, and possibly even a few sane ones. That isn’t the whole story of the brain, though, because there is a tiny gap — the synapse — between brain cells which is bridged by neurotransmitters, not electricity.

Having more or less of a given neurotransmitter will affect the signals inside your brain and thus your mood and behaviour. Food provides some neurotransmitters directly as well as the building blocks for others and many miscellaneous chemicals which interfere with their normal operation.

Some substances we ingest have quite acute mental effects. We tend to call these drugs, rather than food, but really it is a sliding scale. Alcohol is renowned for its effects on the brain but it is also packed full of calories, while bread, the staff of life, can affect your mental state in a variety of ways.

Phenylalanine, found in many foods as well as being a key ingredient in some artificial sweeteners, suppresses appetite. Digestion of milk, wheat and corn may produce opium-like effects. Coffee and chocolate contain caffeine which is a stimulant. The list goes on.

Anyway, there you have it, food definitely can affect mood. Make of it what you will: I think I’m going to make a sandwich, wash it down with a glass of milk, and hopefully have a very pleasant afternoon indeed.

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