Making the Right Food Decisions

Under what conditions does food affect our ability to make good decisions?
Text by Corina Tan
Making the Right Food Decisions

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When it comes to decision making, we often think that just being practical, logical and having a good head on your shoulders is what’s required. However, studies show that what you eat (or don’t eat) before you make decisions can actually have a great impact on the outcome.

Settling for less when you are hungry

This is akin to going to the supermarket on an empty stomach. The tendency is to come out of there with your shopping cart full of chips and cookies or just about any junk food there is. Studies show that when people are hungry, they settle for instant gratification or a smaller reward versus holding out for something bigger and better in the long run. In other words, you would most likely make a bad and hasty decision.

Making the Right Food Decisions

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Lack of food also impacts the way your brain works

Going beyond food, research suggests that decisions are more present-focused when people are too busy to grab a meal. Skipping meals is so common that there is a tendency to overlook the non-obvious ways that it can affect our preferences and decisions. Across two separate studies, the results showed that different macronutrient compositions affect plasma neurotransmitter precursor levels, and these in turn influence social decision making. In other words, the presence or absence of nutrition directly affects the way we respond and make selections. So, grab an energy bar if you are running out of time for a meeting or a brain-storming session so that you can give your best input unaffected by food, or lack thereof.

Foods that fuel your brain

In a limited sense, “we are what we eat” and our chosen food has implications on a variety of subjects and situations, be it education, economics or public policy. As such there needs to be an emphasis on the importance of a balanced diet as it may extend beyond obtaining adequate nutrition.

Research by Cambridge University discovered that serotonin plays a major role in the decision-making process. Serotonin is made by an amino acid called tryptophan which comes from our diet. In between meals, the level of this chemical declines which can lead to aggressiveness and impulsiveness. Foods that are rich in tryptophan include chicken soup, chocolate, red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, tuna, shellfish and soy-based products.

While it’s not always possible to ensure we make all our decisions on a full stomach, having something is better than nothing at all. If you were in a good position to choose and had the time to make better dietary selections, keep in mind the different types of food that could contribute to your ability to make the best decision possible at the time.

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