Health Topics

What We Eat Affects How We Feel

What We Eat Affects How We Feel

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 present in our bodies, only a few affect appetite:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  • Vegetables

Low-fat protein foods are not only heart-healthy, but are also easier to digest, and they won’t leave you feeling weighed down like fried meats or high-fat choices such as spare ribs or salami. Choose items such as:

  • Lean meat
  • Skinless poultry
  • Fish
  • Tofu or textured vegetable protein
  • Beans and lentils
  • Low-fat dairy (yogurt, milk or cheese)

Combine carbohydrates and protein to keep your energy lasting even longer. Try them in any combination that works for you, or try some of our examples:

  • Whole grain bread with roast turkey and tomato slices, paired with an apple
  • Whole grain cereal with nonfat milk and a sliced banana
  • Salmon on a bed of lentils drizzled in fresh lemon juice, spicy brown rice and beans topped with Greek yogurt
  • Chicken vegetable soup with a pear salad

For more healthy recipes, visit the Speaking of Women’s Health Recipe Box.