Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday Food Pharmacy: Pasta & other grain (& sometimes fruit) products

Keep your energy up and your stress down: eat pasta!



At this busy time of year, it is especially important to take care of yourself, eat right, and get enough quality sleep. You already know that complex carbohydrates like those found in grain products (pastas, breads, and cereals) are great energy foods. What you might not be aware of is that they can also be good sources of useful tryptophan, the amino acid that produces the neurotransmitter serotonin which aids in relaxation and sleep, and helps to relieve depression.

There are many foods that contain tryptophan; however as with many nutrient interactions, some sources are better than others to initiate the proper response of your body chemistry to produce the desired result: promoting relaxation.

As it enters your bloodstream through the digestive process, tryptophan can get side-tracked by the amino acids tyrosine, phenylalanine, valine, leucine and isoleucine. When that happens, it reduces the amount of tryptophan available to travel to your brain to create serotonin. Eating carbohydrate-rich foods causes your body to release insulin. Insulin helps to clear some of those competing amino acids out of your blood allowing more of the tryptophan to travel to your brain.

Tryptophan, like all the amino acids, is most abundant in meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, and nuts. However, flesh, dairy, and nut sources do not initiate the same insulin-releasing chemistry that carbohydrates do, and so do not keep the other amino acids from hijacking the tryptophan. Eating proteins will give you energy and perk you up, it won't be the relaxing type of energy you receive from eating carbohydrates. For example, eating a bagel as a bedtime snack is a great idea, but only add salmon and cream cheese on a breakfast, lunch, or afternoon-snack bagel because the proteins contained in those toppings will make you more alert, not sleepy.

You may make an exception in the case of the cream cheese, or you may want to have a cup of hot cocoa with your bagel since there is evidence that calcium helps the manufacture of tryptophan into the other sleep hormone melatonin, an important product of your endocrine system. To digress for a moment: It has been proposed that a lack of melatonin is a significant factor in the higher rates of cancer in people who work at night because they often experience low levels of this powerful antioxidant. Darkness is required for the production of melatonin, and excessive or lengthy illumination can reduce its production. Read more about melatonin at Wikipedia.

Following is a chart I created of popular selections of grain foods: pastas, cereals, bread, and pies (yes, pie is a great choice for carbs and a good carb-to-protein ratio). These items have a satisfactory level of carbohydrates, and a reasonable ratio of carbohydrates to proteins. I've marked the best of the pasta, pie, and breads class with an asterisk, but beware of the high calories of the pies! The cereals section is there for comparison but some of the information is unavailable, so I did not indicate a asterisk a "best source" in that group.

Food

Serving

Size

Calories

in Kcal

Carbohydrates

in Grams

Protein

in Grams

Tryptophan

in Grams

Pasta






Spaghetti / macaroni

1 cup

221

43.20

8.12

0.113 *

Spaghetti – whole wheat

1 cup

174

37.16

7.46

0.097

Spaghetti – spinach

1 cup

182

36.61

6.41

0.081

Egg noodles

1 cup

221

40.26

7.26

0.069

Pasta Sauce – for those of you who couldn't survive bare pasta:
Prego 100% Natural Spaghetti Sauce (jar)

2 Tbsp

136

20.80

2.21

N/A

Pie






Pecan pie

1/6 pie

452

64.64

4.52

0.073 *

Pumpkin pie

1/6 pie

229

29.76

4.25

0.056

Cherry pie

1/6 pie

304

46.57

2.34

0.033

Blueberry pie

1/6 pie

271

40.83

2.11

0.029

Cereals






General Mills Cheerios

1 cup

110

22.78

3.00

0.048

General Mills Whole Grain Total

¾ cup

100

23.15

2.00

0.039

Kellogg's Raisin Bran

1 cup

195

46.54

5.18

N/A

Quaker Instant Oatmeal – Raisin Spice

1 packet

162

32.92

3.35

N/A

Breads






Bagel – cinnamon raisin

4" diameter

243

49.13

8.72

0.101 *

Biscuit – home made

4" diameter

357

45.05

7.07

0.088

Pumpernickel

1 slice lg.

335

15.20

2.78

0.031

Rye

1 slice

83

15.46

2.72

0.031

Whole wheat

1 slice

69

11.56

3.63

0.023

White

1 slice

66

12.65

1.91

0.022

You may also like to read (or re-read) the "How to eat right to reduce stress" article reprinted with permission from the PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) website.


This column is dedicated to my son Steven who would live entirely on pasta and cereal if he could. :-) Happy Thanksgiving, Steven!

3 comments:

G said...

Yummmm.....pasta!!!! :)

caroline brown said...

I'm so glad to see someone writing like this instead of promoting some ridiculous anti-carb philosophy....or is that trend's fifteen minutes over by now? let's hope so. I absolutely would starve without pasta and rice in my diet!

Michelle said...

Hi G and Caroline,

I have to agree...I love pasta and rice! I hope that trend's fame is over, too...it was crazy to begin with, and it managed to misinform a lot of people.