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Why eating cheese and chocolate is so good for you

These foods contain L-tyrosine, which helps increase happiness, improve memory, and manage stress

High-protein foods like meat and dairy are a source of tyrosine
High-protein foods like meat and dairy are a source of tyrosine (Unsplash)

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Delhi-based Anagha Srotreya struggled to balance the challenges of her job in a media company's human resources department with attending to her ailing parent and pre-teen daughter. From yoga classes and meditation sessions to even a leisurely pampering day at the spa, she tried different ways to help release the tension. 

A consultation with the nutritionist at her gym changed things for her--she was introduced to the idea that food could impact overall emotional well-being. Her nutritionist Dr Shalini Dhingra spoke to Srotreya about the powerful amino acid, L-tyrosine, which produces adrenaline and dopamine and is known to help increase happiness, improve memory, and manage stress. And no, this did not mean reaching out to a supplement. "L-tyrosine (also known just as tyrosine) can be made by the body in small amounts. A large dose of it can be introduced to the system through the food we eat," says Dhingra, listing some of the foods that contain tyrosin—dairy products, especially cheese, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, oats, wheat and soy. 

According to her, food that naturally contains L-tyrosine is part of a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet that could make you feel happier and healthier for multiple reasons. "L-tyrosine also helped reduce cognitive decline in people under intense physical stress. Initial studies show that L-tyrosine could also help with memory and performance when under mental or emotional stress," Dhingra says.

Also read: A no-nonsense guide to changing your body composition

Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid produced by another amino acid called phenylalanine. It helps the body create several necessary substances, including dopamine, adrenaline, thyroid and melanin. "Clinically speaking, tyrosine is an amino acid that helps to maintain stressed-out components required by nerve cells to send and receive signals," adds Dhingra. Although most people do not need to take L-tyrosine from external sources as our body manufactures it, it may be beneficial in certain circumstances. For example, the amino acid helps humans perform in stressful situations. Some studies are underway to prove the effect of L-tyrosine in the armed forces, as most officers are exposed to extreme weather conditions and asked to perform cognitive tasks. Tyrosine may also help one stay mentally sharp, especially when one has lost sleep. Also, because tyrosine is turned into the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, it plays a role in relieving depression and is known to treat mild-to-moderate depression. Simrun Chopra, Deep Health Coach, a nutritionist and founder of the health and fitness platform, Nourish with Sim, says, " During stressful times, our bodies release these chemicals which result in our brains being exhausted and hence feeling low and unable to respond to continued stress in a balanced way."

The effectiveness of any amino acid or nutrient lies in reaching the daily recommended value. The best way to do this is through a balanced diet, though the odd bit of coffee and chocolate can help too. Chocolate, for instance,  also has the desired effect as it contains small amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA), a compound that signals our brain cells to release dopamine. Also, high-quality coffee in moderation can also increase dopamine levels as caffeine can signal our body to produce additional dopamine. Little wonder that these are considered the perfect mid-morning pick-me-ups.

Chopra, however, adds a word of caution. "The thing to remember is that adequate tyrosine intake with lowered and unaddressed Vitamin D or Omega-three fatty acids is not going to make an individual healthy. We must address the whole person from an individualised perspective. For instance, a high intake of tyrosine reacts with some medications, and large amounts elevate thyroxine levels which make hyperthyroidism or grave disease worse. Hence, I would recommend before adding any supplement, it is advisable to check with a nutritionist or doctor," she says.

Srotreya agrees. "One of the first things my nutritionist suggested was though L-Tyrosine is one of the building blocks of protein, it's unlikely that one would be deficient in tyrosine to the point that it would cause you adverse health effects. But if someone is considering supplementing with L-tyrosine, s/he should consult with the doctor to make sure that's the right choice, I was advised," she says. Sure, chronic stress is tough to tackle, but an informed plan of action is needed rather than following a Google diet, adds Dhingra.

Also read: Why eating healthy makes you happier




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