The Romance of Nutrition

When thinking of a traditional Valentines’ meal, ingredients such as oysters and asparagus often come to mind – a romantic association that has probably come about because of their high levels of zinc. Zinc is just excellent for baby making as it helps create fully-formed, swimming-in-the-right direction and raring-to-go-sperm.

Neurotransmitters and Setting the Mood

However romance should not always be shackled to[more] fertility (that’s a different article) so instead I’m going to recommend a meal which should have the ability to spike levels of two neurotransmitters intricately linked with feelings of happiness, warmth and love: serotonin and oxytocin. Follow these Valentine suggestions and you’ll be assured that you have all the nutritional blocks in place to kick-start their synthesis.

Let’s start with Breakfast

In order to lay the groundwork for the creation of these neurotransmitters we need to start earlier in the day. Whereas serotonin benefits from one particular amino acid (the building blocks of protein) oxytocin requires a whole range. Consequently, start the day with a plentiful breakfast of smoked salmon and eggs. Eggs are an excellent protein source which contain all 9 of the amino acids necessary to build oxytocin. In addition, omega 3 oils from the salmon will maintain the health of the neural sheaths ensuring the safe passage of these important neurotransmitters to their receptor sites. And, equally important for the synthesis of oxytocin is Vitamin C, so have a diluted glass of orange juice alongside.

Relax

We also need to ensure good blood flow so that nothing impedes the flow of these neurotransmitters to the brain. To that effect we need to eat nitrate-rich foods which have a vaso-dilatory effect. These will increase blood flow and lower blood pressure, allowing one to relax and get into that loving mood (similar to the effect of the 1st glass of wine). Helpfully the blood flow is increased not only to the brain but also to, errm, other extremities generally considered useful in a romantic situation… Two foods rich in nitrates are blueberries and beetroot - not known as “Nature’s Viagra” for nothing!

The Main Event

For the Valentine’s meal itself, to turn things on their head I recommend that you dispense with a savoury starter and instead start with a sugar and fruit laden dessert. I wouldn’t grant this recipe 5 stars for nutritional content but as romantic nutritional engineering it should accomplish its aim and, in this once-a-year-occasion, it’s actually beneficial to dump sugar into the blood stream (diabetics please email me for an alternative suggestion!) and raise insulin. Tryptophan, which serotonin depends upon, greatly benefits from the release of insulin. Its effect is to downplay other amino acids leaving tryptophan to dominate in the bloodstream and allowing it to be synthesised more readily into serotonin. Having the sweet course first will help to ensure that there is nothing already in the stomach which could impede the sugar’s release.

Blueberry and banana pancakes are delicious, aromatic and contain everything we need. It helps if the bananas are as ripe as possible so that these, and the refined flour and sugar, will rapidly cause the necessary insulin spike As well as being a source of tryptophan the bananas also contain vitamin B6 which helps to synthesise both neurotransmitters. Furthermore the nitrate-containing blueberries will relax the blood vessels and facilitate neurotransmitter take-up.

For the main event try Mediterranean Pork and Mozzarella accompanied by beautiful roast beetroot: another dish overflowing with tryptophan, vitamin B6 and nitrates.

So you now have all the nutrients needed to instigate “that loving feeling”. After this the rest is down to you: romantic lighting, fragrant red roses, a willing disposition and finally an attractive, attentive dinner-date. After all, food will only get you so far…

By Saffron Rogerson

12 February 2015