The effect of food on mood has always been an interest of mine. It started when I found out foods like garlic where believed to energize the brain and stimulate social interactions like communication. Then I found out about the world of aphrodisiacs (always a hot topic for the mind of a young man) and then veered off into the world of how certain foods can elevate moods and contribute to our wellbeing. In University I took a fun course called Culinary Anthropology, an exploration of how food and culture influence different cultures around the world. It taught me that food plays a huge role in our lives and sharing and enjoyment are key pieces for enjoying our time here on the planet. It all made me think that maybe there were deeper mechanism at work when we eat food we enjoy.
Science has also looked at this issue and has isolated several interesting connections. Some foods do provide energy to the metabolism (such as theobromine from chocolate and caffeine from coffee and tea and others). Some chemical reactions such as the caramelization of sugars also form complex products that react as pleasure in the brain. Many foods we crave contain an essential amino acid called tryptophan and one key component is called serotonin. Many foods contain this compound such as dairy, meat and poultry, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, chocolate and many mushrooms. Yes, they all taste good, but there are also chemical transmitters being sent to your brain sending waves of pleasure around. This is pretty neat stuff.
Recent research as also revealed another substance called andandamine. You may know it as an active ingredient in cannabis but it also occurs naturally in other plants, notably chocolate and truffles and more mysteriously in local sea urchin roe. Scientists have dubbed this the bliss molecule for its role in lowering anxiety and it’s being studied as a potential medication for treating depression. It is also though to increase appetite and may have a role in the way the body assimilates and stores fat. Who knew that forkful of food has may have so much impact on our brain? Well – we did;
and we’ve been celebrating the fact on our farm for the past few years. On Saturday, February 14th (yes, that’s Valentines Day) we will be holding our annual Happiness Dinner featuring foods that encourage feelings of well- being and pleasure. The meal will include oysters, truffles, Dungeness crab, mushrooms and chocolate. If you feel like being a happy Guinea Pig, come join us. Details are on our website at www.deerholme.com.
Bill Jones is a chef, author and food consultant based on Deerholme Farm.