Pleasure on My Plate
Go ahead, make every meal a treat!
Craving a cupcake or biryani? Watching videos on Facebook's many, many food channels? Anticipating the smell of freshly brewed coffee as you walk into a cafe? The gratifications of food are many and aren't confined to the tongue. They involve multiple brain networks that entail a composite of 'liking' a food, 'wanting' it and a Pavlovian gustatory response to its presence. The neurotransmitter dopamine, the pleasure hormone, is activated during the 'wanting' phase in our brain, while opioids dominate during the 'liking' stage.
"How the food looks, the smells it emanates, its temperature, who has cooked it, the environment it is consumed in, along with its taste, all contribute to our experience," says Delhi-based nutritionist Lovneet Batra. She also emphasizes mindfulness as the key to making this pleasure a part of your life: "Make a decision without feeling guilty or punishing yourself. Pause, enjoy it, rather than scarfing down two slices of pizza mindlessly in your car." We look at the science behind these sensations and the indulgent flavours that you should definitely seek out.
A glass of fresh orange juice in the morning signals the start of an energy-filled day. "Oranges and other citrus fruits are high in vitamin C and stress-relieving antioxidants," says Batra. Bring this vitality to the rest of your day with lemon-based salad dressings in your office lunch or bake a lemon tart for dessert and let the aroma waft through the house.
Ghee and butter
A few drops of ghee on a hot chapati or butter on hot toast are primal pleasures. "Pure fat contributes to satiety, which is essential for a gratifying meal. Taste also plays a role here since the Indian palate is used to ghee. It also improves brain function and pregnant women are advised to include it in their diet," says Dharini Krishnan, a Chennai-based nutritionist. Butter also improves the 'mouth feel' of baked goods, imparting moisture and creaminess to their texture -- another important aspect of our enjoyment.
"Most of us have happy memories of being rewarded with chocolate, especially in childhood," says Batra. Additionally, sugar and fat add to its satiety value, while flavonoids, a class of antioxidants, create feelings of wellness. Stir in a few spoonfuls into your morning smoothie, drizzle the sauce on to roasts and salads, or brew a cup of cocoa while binge-watching your favourite show or curling up with a book. To avoid sweets, have a small piece of dark chocolate post dinner.
The spice conjures warmth, whether in a hot beverage or sprinkled over dessert. "Cinnamon is a very good glycaemic controller and increases insulin sensitivity, leading to optimum utilization of sugar in the bloodstream," says Batra. Use the whole spice to season your dishes (it's integral to the garam masala mix), in your hot drink of choice or as a powdered garnish on desserts or roasts, and let the warmth diffuse through all your senses.
Some of us define heaven as waking up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning. Batra identifies the strong aroma, the hot temperature of the brew and its unique mouthfeel as essential to our sense of pleasure. "Caffeine is a stimulant which wakes you up and makes you feel alert and energetic," she adds. Give in to the indulgence of a coffee cake, stir it into condensed milk and pour over ice the Vietnamese way. You could use the liqueur in seasonal cocktails or just explore the wide gamut of coffee-infused ice creams and desserts.