Happy Foods/Pure Bliss

By Annette O’Neill, RD, RDN

We are programmed to have “Pure Bliss” when it comes to “Happy Foods”. Our triggers to like sugar, fat, and salt goes back to our ancestors when we needed a lot of calories for survival. Our brain has a strong desire to seek out high-calorie foods which explain our cravings.

Whether it’s Mom’s strawberry cheesecake, chocolate covered pretzels or the grocery store barbeque potato chips, this perfect balance of sugar, salt, and fat is called “the bliss point”.

What also makes it hard, are companies that optimized consumers’ sweet and salty cravings in our brains and guts by adding extra sugar and salt to food products! Keep in mind that taste alone won’t cause us to overeat, but the high-sugar, salt, and fatty snacks might.

Based on evidence from Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition at Rochester Institute of Technology and the Mind Genomics Advisors LLC, foods with a lot of sugar can trigger an addictive-like pattern of eating and binging. As you eat a candy bar or a cupcake with icing, your blood glucose levels increases and the pleasure chemicals in your brain wants more and more.

Let’s break it down scientifically:

This is a neurotransmitter (the messenger that carries signals between nerve cells) and triggers addictive and reward-based behaviors. So this hormone is strongest when you go by a bakery or ice cream stand, you will have an overwhelming craving for that food, even after having a full meal. The dopamine will engage us to satisfy that craving.

If you feel anxiety increasing, the stress hormone will communicate to the dopamine system to want high-calorie foods. Also, if you try to cut calories too suddenly, your system will not adjust properly and will be stressed and hungry which can sabotage healthy eating.

Gut Peptides
Peptides are a group of hormones in your digestive system and play a role in hunger. If you are not eating enough and low in calorie intake, your gut will again communicate to the dopamine system to be on a mission to find food.

Even when we don’t need those temptation foods, the sight and smell of those foods release the hunger-producing hormone ghrelin and stimulates the addictive chemicals in the brain to be ready to eat even when you are not hungry.

This is an appetite suppressing hormone and lets you know when you are, full and in turn there is a lesser connection to trigger the dopamine system. The flip side of this “Leptin coin” are people with metabolic syndrome which this leptin signal doesn’t work as well and can cause weight gain to then lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, or cardiac disease.

This gives you pleasure from consuming high-calorie foods, however, the more you eat these foods, the pleasure connection starts diminishing. In turn, you try to eat more and more to get the same reward you initially did.

How much fiber should we eat?

About 20-35 grams of total fiber a day, with 10-15 grams coming from Soluble fiber. Choose 6 ounces of whole grains, 2 ½ cups of vegetable, 2 cups of fruit per day based on 2000 calorie/day pattern but make sure enough water is consumed (at least 8, 8oz glasses of water a day).

Some fiber food choices:

Soluble Fiber
Insoluble Fiber
Brown rice

Brussels sprouts
Citrus fruits

Wheat Bran
Chia seeds (3/4 insoluble and ¼ soluble)
Psyllium, a fiber laxative/cereal additive, with both soluble and insoluble properties.

Fiber-up with Farro Salad!

Farro-Salad Nutrition Link

Farro is a whole grain and is popular in Italy. Fiber-up with this grain in salads. This light Farro salad is easy to make “ahead dish” to have for lunch at work for energy or for a quiet Sunday afternoon. All the dietary fiber veggies bursting with flavors, vitamins and minerals for our healthy survival day. You can make it 50/50 for the perfect balance of Farro and Veggies. All depends on how grainy or veggie heavy you want it!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Very little sea salt to taste
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns (fruity and peppery flavor)
3 scallions, white parts only cut into a fine dice
6 large radishes, cut into a fine dice, about ½ cup
1 cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup faro, soaked overnight in 3 cups of water and drained

1. Place lemon juice and a sea salt pinch into a large bowl. Gradually beat in the olive oil until well combined. Stir in the pink peppercorns and the scallions.

2. Take the diced celery and radishes and mix them into the dressing. Add a hand full of the corn kernels, 1 cup of cherry tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Stir to mix. The vegetables should be well coated in oil and herbs. Let sit in a cool place for 10 minutes for the flavors to develop.

3. Take the drained farro and gradually add it into the vegetables ¼ cup at a time until you have the balance of grain and vegetables to your taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

(1) American Diabetes Association
(2) www.cookforyourlife.com