Food and Mood: Mozambique's influence on happiness
Of all the days and times in the week, Sunday mornings are my favourite. Situated at the peak of my weekend relaxation, it's the perfect opportunity to do any one of my many Sunday morning rituals. One of them being, the local farmer's markets of San Diego. Here I get to reconnect with the vendors, talk to one of my many farmer's market-made friends, and best of all, dazzle my tastebuds with the plethora of flavours that find themselves on display at the food counters. While most try foods for the taste, the novelty and caloric value, I look at food in another way. Particularly, I wonder 'How will this food either help my mood or worsen it'. Meaning, what is the brain-value of this food?
Our brain is the most metabolically active organ in our body. It requires a ton of nutrients, calories, fat, and protein to make it function. Without which, it cannot make those essential emotion communicators, known as neurotransmitters. This awareness is important not only for those who may experience depression or anxiety, but also for focus, attention, stress, insomnia, and so on. In many industrialized nations, like North America, meals have evolved to be processed, hormone/pesticide ridden, fried, and generally toxic. As a result, people are consuming these energy dense but nutrient poor foods. Essentially, they are starving their brain at the expense of high calorie 'meals'. A brain that's doesn't have a steady supply of nutrients cannot make neurotransmitters contributing to focus, calmness, happiness. However, whole foods, consciously sourced, and prepared in a way to retain their nutrients can help improve one's mood, maintain attention, and even improve sleep quality. So, I decided to write about some of my inner workings on the brain/nutrient contribution of foods I come across in my everyday culinary explorations.
This week, I took a trip around the world to Mozambique via the La Jolla's farmer's market scene and got a tantalizing sample of some of their succulent delights!
Half-past nine in the morning, starving, and venturing from one food stall to another, sampling the entire way; I was trying not to fill up on too much guacamole or quinoa bread, before I had the opportunity to choose my meal. Suddenly, I was stopped in my tracks, caught by an alluring aroma. Scent of warm chilli spices bubbling in coconut milk surrounded and beckoned me. With my mouth watering, I was lead to Sabor Piri Piri Kitchen (www.saborpirpirikitchen.com) and greeted by smiling Candido Gadaga, who was cooking his various Mozambique dishes.
This beautiful coastline southeast African country was a former Portuguese colony, and rich with cultural diversity and history. Which were all portrayed through their scrumptious local cuisine. Tempted to order everything off the menu, I was told if I couldn't decide on one, I could combine a couple of the meals into one. So, I chose the broccoli and sweet potato curry, and lentils with cabbage (all vegan). Both curries were on either side of the boxed container with basmati rice in the middle, acting as the divider. What a delight!
After saying my goodbyes to Candido, I eagerly headed over to the picnic tables to dive into my meal and see how this added up from a mood perspective. After my first bite into the sweet potato and coconut curry, I felt like I could taste all of Mozambique's historical influences. This tomato based curry, has the undertones of coconut, peanut and turmeric with the aromatic flavours of paprika and curry powder. The lentil and cabbage had a more earthy palate which reminded me of my mom's Indian daal, but decorated with squares of stewed cabbage.
So, aside from the delicately crafted combination of flavours, I took a further look to see how this would add up from a mood perspective. The main factors I was analyzing for were whether the nutrient make-up of the food can help a person's mood. The first curry had a good fats from the coconut milk, the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric and paprika, energy coming from the sweet potato, the broccoli contributed fibre and mood boosting nutrients, like calcium, and some protein from the peanuts. Overall, it was a good mix from a brain health perspective. Some extra protein with that meal would have rounded it out nicely, which is where the second curry, the lentil and cabbage came in (otherwise you can choose one of the many meat-based meals). This curry offered a ton of valuable mood enhancing B-vitamins, calcium, and protein for the brain. The curries were combined with the basmati rice, which supercharged the meal, to deliver a ton of energy and promote the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin and dopamine.
I encourage you to try out Sabor Piri Piri Kitchen. Candido was very knowledgeable and friendly. He had a variety of selections on his menu, and I'm glad for the ability to combine the meals (which costs $9). I felt like I had travelled the world in that meal. I look forward to seeing where my next culinary exploration will take me!