Food makes us feel good. Besides tasting great and nourishing the body, food also has an influence on appetite and moods. Research shows that certain foods affect powerful mood-modifying brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are made from the foods we eat and are present in higher concentrations after meals than between them.
Of the many neurotransmitters, only a few affect appetite:
- Serotonin — a chemical released after eating carbohydrates (sugars and starches). It enhances calmness, improves mood, and lessens depression. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. High levels of serotonin control appetite and satisfy cravings.
- Dopamine and norepinephrine — chemicals released after eating protein (meats, poultry, dairy, legumes). They enhance mental concentration and alertness. These neurotransmitters come from the amino acid tyrosine.
What to eat, and when?
What you choose for a meal or snack can make a difference in how much you eat or how soon you will desire to eat again. Including carbohydrate and protein sources at meals might help you to feel satisfied, both at the meal and after eating.
Look for carbohydrate foods that are whole grain and/or contain whole grains and fiber. Choose foods such as:
- whole grain breads and cereals
- potatoes with skin
- brown rice
- whole grain pasta
- pilaf made with bulgur and quinoa
- fresh fruits
Protein foods low in fat are not only heart-healthy, but are also easier to digest – they won’t leave you feeling weighted down like fried meats or high-fat choices such as spare ribs or salami. Choose items such as:
- lean meat
- skinless poultry
- tofu or textured vegetable protein
- beans and lentils
- low-fat dairy (yogurt, milk, or cheese)
Combine carbohydrates and protein in any combination that works for you:
- whole grain bread with roast turkey and tomato slices paired with an apple
- whole grain cereal with nonfat milk with a sliced banana
- salmon on a bed of lentils drizzled in fresh lemon juice, spicy brown rice, and beans topped with Greek yogurt; or
- chicken vegetable soup with a pear salad.
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