Photo: plumandjello (Flickr)
Did last night’s dinner make you drool with anticipation? Did lunch have you licking your chops? According to research by teams from Thailand and Sweden, enjoying your food increases the nourishment your body receives from it.
Imagine a bowl of Thai vegetables and rice in coconut milk, seasoned with hot chili paste. Sound scrumptious? Or too spicy for your palate? The researchers served this dish to Thai women accustomed to such fare, then measured how much iron they absorbed.
Next, the researchers served the same meal to Swedish women accustomed to less spice. Guess what happened? The Swedish women absorbed significantly less iron than their Thai counterparts.
Going further, the researchers served the Thai women the same ingredients, processed into an unappetizing, goopy puree. This time, the Thai women absorbed 70% less iron than they had before.
How Can This Be?
The researchers believe the answer’s in the brain. Before you eat a bite, there’s a brain phase of digestive secretion. Seeing, smelling, or just anticipating a good meal prompts the brain to send messages to glands along the digestive tract. “Hey you guys!
Yummy morsels coming!” These happy thoughts prompt secretion of saliva, gastric juices and enzymes for digestion. In particular, acidic gastric juices are key to iron absorption. Without the acid, the body absorbs little iron.
When you’re relaxed and enjoying your food, your brain primes your gut to absorb the most nutrients. So there’s scientific evidence for something we’ve suspected all along-an appealing, leisurely meal is a lot more nutritious than unappetizing grub!