I’m tempted to say, “Almost anything,” because the calorie myth is being disproven over and over these days. Finally!
That myth is a distraction from the real effects of foods. Below are just a few.
1. Food and Brain Chemistry
No, there’s no brain chemistry in food. But certain properties of foods help the brain produce certain brain chemicals.
Protein foods supply amino acids.
As you remember from 7th grade biology (!!?!?), amino acids are the “building blocks of protein.” Aminos are used by the brain to make brain chemicals that influence our moods.
Three of them are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Protein also provides B vitamins to help the brain make those 3 chemicals.
Dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward. It triggers alertness, clarity and faster response time. A brain on dopamine is ready for action.
Norepinephrine is another reward chemical that triggers alertness. It’s anti-depressive and has analgesic properties.
Serotonin makes us feel relaxed and calm. It decreases stress, anxiety and depression. It’s also an analgesic. With food, serotonin produces satiety, especially for carbs.
To take advantage of the natural properties of protein foods, eat fish, shrimp, crab, poultry, eggs, beef, cottage cheese, high-protein yogurt.
But I’m Vegan!
Use the many plant protein powders available. Hemp, pea, brown rice, sacha inchi, and vegetable protein powders effectively replace animal proteins. Vegan or not, never skimp on protein if you want your brain to function optimally.
2. Food and Hormones
We’re NOT talking about hormones given to animals that can harm the health of those who eat the foods. This section is about the hormones our bodies produce when we eat specific foods.
Here are 3 examples of how hormones triggered by foods can affect us.
When we eat fats and/or protein foods, the body releases CCK (cholecystokinin).
CCK is almost magic. It makes us feel we’ve had enough food and don’t need more for a while. It decreases appetite for carbohydrates and also stops carb cravings.
When we eat starches (“carbs”), the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is absolutely vital, but in excess can cause trouble. What can excess insulin do?
• It promotes fat storage, moving glucose into fat stores.
• It inhibits fat utilization (oxidation), so we burn carbohydrate for fuel instead.
• It promotes inflammation and is at the heart (!) of a number of metabolic conditions that increase the risk of heart disease.
When we eat protein, the body releases glucagon. Glucagon moves fat from storage into the bloodstream, so it can be used for energy.
Those are only 3 of the hormones that respond to specific foods we eat. As you can see, they have benefits that make them more compelling than calories in / calories out.
3. Food and Sleep
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and sometimes classified as a hormone. It’s produced in the brain and the intestines and is found in platelets and other locations. It’s a vasoconstrictor.
Serotonin is best known as an antidepressant but does a lot more.
In the GI tract, it helps to control appetite, especially for carbs.
When we’re injured, serotonin is released by the platelets. It triggers vasoconstriction to decrease blood flow and promotes blood clot formation.
What If We Don’t Have Enough?
Low serotonin is linked with anxiety, low self-esteem, cravings for sweet and/or starchy carbs, and sleep difficulties.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try eating a small portion of healthful starch about 80 or 90 minutes before bed. The starch will start the process that allows the brain to produce serotonin. Serotonin in turn produces melatonin, often called the sleep hormone. All natural, no side effects.
If your sleep problem is waking up in the middle of the night and not getting back to sleep, starches will help you fall asleep again.
Keep your portions small. The idea is to change brain chem, not add another meal.
ALSO! This works best if you eat protein with your meals and snacks throughout the day.
As you can see, food is much more (and more interesting!) than calories in / calories out.