Why do we feel sleepy after we eat? There are two components to the so-called “food coma”: neurological and hormonal. When we eat, the food mashed up by your teeth is swallowed down the oesophagus and into the stomach, where it is churned in a vat of very strong hydrochloric acid. The acid dissolves the food into liquid form, which is then sent to the small intestines. Here, the chemical components of the food such as carbohydrates is broken into simpler blocks, such as glucose. This is then absorbed into the bloodstream.
The body can actually sense when you have swallowed food, as your stomach stretches and sends signals to the brain. This triggers the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which is the “fight or flight” system). The parasympathetic nervous system is involved in digesting and rest. It stimulates stomach acid production, gut movement and even reduces your energy level so that digestion can happen smoothly. In old people, it can even decrease blood pressure enough to a point that they feel dizzy (much like head rush). This is the neurological component.
The hormonal component is linked with the absorption phase of digestion. To deal with the increasing level of glucose in your blood, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin rounds up the glucose in the blood and stores it away in cells to normalise the blood glucose level. In this process, it also stimulates the uptake of certain amino acids (building blocks of protein) into cells. However, it leaves out one type of amino acids called tryptophan. Because there is more tryptophan in the blood compared to the other amino acids, your brain decides to use this to build more proteins. Tryptophan is converted in the brain into a very important neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is then converted into melatonin. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter involved in triggering sleep. Therefore, through this extremely complicated pathway, food causes sleepiness.
At face value, this makes it look like increasing intake of tryptophan may help induce sleep. It is commonly said that turkey meat and bananas help you sleep because of tryptophan. But this is an urban myth as neither of these foods are particularly high in tryptophan and there is no evidence to suggest that tryptophan itself helps you sleep. Then again, melatonin supplements have some evidence supporting it as a sleep aide. This shows just how complicated the human body can be.
I love cooking. My mum is a super-pro cook and one of my happiest memories of childhood was eating homemade meals (still is). Cooking in general is fun because you get the instant reward of eating it, but what’s even more fun is that you can do whatever the hell you want… within acceptable limits. Cooking by a recipe can be fun, but going by feel and changing around stuff is even better! And best of all, you can make your own recipes.
What I find the most fun regarding cooking is that you can get creative with various ingredients and see how it turns out. It could be you’re making something from scratch, or trying to recreate a meal you had somewhere else. I mean seriously, it’s like Lego that you can EAT. How much better can it get? Sometimes I look at the limited supply of food in my fridge and take it as a challenge.
For example, you can go from easy things like fried rice where you can pretty much dice up whatever and toss it in a pan:
…to more complex things like sweet & sour chicken, which I always have fun experimenting with (it’s really not that complicated tbh…):
Yes, yes, I’m weird. But I find it enjoyable to crank up the music on my earphones and go shopping…for food. I tend to take my sweet time too, meandering about checking out different items, picking out fresh ingredients and trying to decide what I want for dinner for the next week. Sometimes I’ll even look up recipes on my phone and play it by ear. Like today, I needed an idea for baking for tomorrow (last day of O&G woooo), and I was like hmmm…CHEESECAKE. So there’s a green tea cheesecake setting in my fridge right now.
I can’t wait for when I’m older and start shopping around farmer’s markets and gourmet ingredient shops (when I’m earning money OTL). It’s so fun looking at all kinds of food, smelling and tasting a myriad of ingredients and foods~ You know what they say: don’t forget to stop and smell the roses…and eat them.
The stomach is an organ that is well-known, so much so that the abdomen is often colloquially referred to as “the stomach”. It is an important organ that is part of the digestive tract, responsible for breaking down food that comes in through the mouth then the oesophagus. The stomach lies centrally and just below the sternum, surrounded by the liver on the right, spleen on the left and pancreas below.
Food is broken down primarily by the mouth via chewing. Once you swallow, the food is squeezed through the oesophagus until it is dumped into the stomach. The stomach produces a very strong acid (hydrochloric acid, pH 1~2), which dissolves the chewed food. It enhances this process by contracting its powerful wall muscles to churn and mix the food. Once it is nicely dissolved into a thick liquid, it releases it into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine).
If the stomach uses strong acid to breakdown food, which is organic matter, how come it does not digest itself? This is because the lining of the stomach is coated with a substance called mucin which protects the stomach wall from being corroded by acid. However, the stomach is not perfectly safe from the acid it produces. If the stomach becomes inflamed, the production of mucin and self-repair process of the stomach is limited and acid begins dissolving the stomach lining. This causes peptic ulcers to form, which is essentially a hole in the lining of the stomach, causing severe abdominal pain and occasionally bleeding. Peptic ulcers are commonly caused by an infection by a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. It may also be caused by severe stress and anger or medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, e.g. ibuprofen, diclofenac/Voltaren).
Biologists state that the driving force behind evolution can simply be summarised as four forces: fight, flight, feed and mate (“fuck”). These are known as the Four Fs. Evolution is described as the process by which species adapt to an environment through modifications in the genomes of successive generations. The Four Fs describe the adaptations most commonly seen in evolution; that is, the four things that species evolve in order to better adapt and survive their environment. For example, carnivores developed sharp teeth and claws to hunt better and herbivores developed faster legs to flee from their predators better. Nature is a vicious battleground where different species compete with each other for survival, and the Four Fs are the most powerful weapons of survival.
As much as we’d like to think that we are higher-order, civilised beings, human beings are still driven by the basic four forces that drive every other species in the world. Obviously, our bodies are well-adapted to these forces, such as our fight-or-flight drive activating in the face of danger to let us fight harder or run faster through adrenaline. Anyone can see that nature has done her job well by bestowing us the gift of satiety and orgasm to promote our feeding and mating. But what is interesting that the Four Fs go beyond our “natural evolution” to affect the evolution of our civilisation.
Consider this: what is the purpose of war? Since the dawn of time, mankind has spent a considerable amount of resources figuring how to most efficiently kill another group of people, or live in fear that other people will kill us. If we study the behaviour of chimpanzees (one of the few species other than us that wage warfare), we can see that their motivation is for food and sex (i.e. mating partners). This also applies to mankind and it is not a story of ancient times. It is well-known that raping and pillaging runs rampant during wars. Less than 800 years ago, a man named Genghis Khan was so successful in waging war that DNA evidence suggests that 0.5% of the world population are descended from him. Even in the present, countries wage war to secure natural resources to ensure that their people can eat, as the health of the economy directly correlates with the ability of people to put food on their plates. Almost every war essentially boils down to a fight for food.
Then what about sex? Like it or not, sex has been a tremendously influential force in history. From Cleopatra’s seduction of Caesar preventing Rome’s invasion of Egypt, to Henry VIII turning against the Catholic Church to marry Anne Boleyn, sex has been a timeless motivator for humanity. Although the consequences would not be as dramatic as those described, a significant proportion of our actions are also based on our primal desire to reproduce.
Of course, this is not always the truth and human beings are capable of acting on less wild motivators such as happiness and altruism. However, the next time you make a decision or see a conflict on the news, question this: how much of an impact did food and sex have to motivate that?
A delicacy is a food considered highly desirable due to its unique taste and rarity. Every culture has a different delicacy, ranging from commonly found but peculiar foods such as raw oysters, to very rare foods such as flamingo tongue (a highly prized dish in ancient Rome). Some examples of culture-specific delicacies include: beondaegi in Korea (steamed silkworm pupae), fugu in Japan (blowfish, very poisonous if not prepared correctly), bird’s nest soup in China (made out of swiftlet nests which are made of various fish) and escamoles in Mexico (ant larvae). In the Western hemisphere, three foods have classically been called the “three great delicacies”. These are: foie gras, truffle and caviar.
Foie gras is French for “fatty liver” and it is the liver of a goose that has been fattened up. Because of the rich fat content, foie gras is extremely smooth, buttery and delicate and is highly sought after in gourmet cooking. However, there is much controversy around the preparation of the dish. To fatten the liver, geese are tied up and force-fed large amounts of feed via a funnel and tube. This method is known as “gavage”. Because the geese are held still and force-fed so much food, there is a risk of the oesophagus rupturing and killing the geese. But this death could almost be considered merciful given the horrendous gavage process that can only be considered as torturous.
Truffle is a type of mushroom that lives underground. It is difficult to find and cultivate, making it a rare and valuable ingredient. In fact, it is considered “diamond of the earth” because of that reason. Truffles come in black truffles and white truffles. Black truffles are more commonly used in French dishes, along with simple-tasting foods such as soup and veal. It is also eaten alongside foie gras sometimes. The white version is more common in Italian foods. It is eaten raw and grated over a dish or salad.
Caviar is a Russian delicacy consisting of salted sturgeon roe (fish egg). It is considered one of the most luxurious foods on the planet, with some connoisseurs describing it as the culinary equivalent of an orgasm. Because the roe is not cooked, it retains its unique fishy taste which might make it unpalatable at first. But then people become hooked on the unique, addictive taste that cannot be copied. The price of $8000~16000 per kilogram shows just how much people are willing to pay for the ultimate taste.
It is interesting to see how people tend to use taste-related metaphors to describe other people. If a person is hostile or spiteful, we describe them as “bitter”. If a person is sullen and gloomy, we say they are “sour”. Perhaps the most extensively used taste is “sweetness”. People have a tendency of calling their loved ones sweet-related names, such as “honey”, “sweetie”, “sugar” or “sweetheart”. This is directly reflected in the tradition of giving chocolate to a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Quite obviously, this is because we find sweetness the most palatable taste and something that is nice. On a related note, could there be a relationship between sweetness and personalities?
A group of psychologists decided to study whether people who like sweet foods, or “sweet tooth”s, have a certain personality trait or not. They did a survey where participants were asked what foods they liked most out of a list of 50 foods covering five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy). They also answered questions that gave an indication of their agreeableness (one of the five components of OCEAN personality traits). The psychologists then analysed whether there was an association between sweet tooths and agreeableness. Interestingly, a direct correlation was found between a liking of sweets and higher levels of agreeableness. This suggested that people who like sweet things tend to be more friendly, cooperative and compassionate.
But is the cause-and-effect relationship so simple? Could it be that sweet things cause people to be nicer? In a separate experiment, participants were randomly given a sweet food (chocolate), a not-sweet food (cracker) or no food. They were then asked to volunteer their time to help someone. It was found that those who were given something sweet were more willing to help another person compared to the other two groups.
This makes logical sense as eating sweets such as chocolate causes your brain to release a flood of hormones such as endorphin and serotonin from the absolute pleasure of the experience. These hormones make us feel happy, blissful and in love, which in turn make us more agreeable and willing to cooperate.
Although sweetness has numerous negative effects on the body such as weight gain and diabetes, there is no doubt that it is greatly beneficial for your mental health. If there is a bitter person around you, give them a good dose of chocolate to help them develop a sweeter personality. Or perhaps all they need is a sweet romance.
It is said that oil and water do not mix. This phrase is also used to describe two people who do not get along and cannot even stay near each other. But technically speaking, oil and water can be mixed. When you mix oil and water, you will find that droplets of oil float in the water. If you add an emulsifier (something that helps emulsion – the mixing of oil and water – such as soap or egg white), the oil droplets break down into very fine droplets that spreads through the water to make a stable emulsion fluid. Thus, even something like oil and water that appear to never mix can be mixed using science. Not only that, but some foods that we enjoy so much such as mayonnaise, milk and vinaigrette are all emulsions. Two fluids with different densities and properties, never wanting to be together, can combine to form such a great mixture.
If two people who never get along and refuse to mix were to congeal like mayonnaise, they may form a surprising combination, producing synergy.
On a hot summer’s day, one tends to drink cold drinks and eat cold foods to try cool their body down. But an old Korean proverb states that one should control fire with fire (yiyul-chiyul, 이열치열, 以熱治熱). In other words, instead of drinking cold drinks, it is better for your health if you eat hot soup to combat the heat. When the temperature becomes hot, the body redirects blood flow to the skin to cool itself, meaning there is less blood flow to the organs and causing the internal temperature to drop. Although cooling yourself is good, having a cold drink rapidly on a hot day can suddenly cause a large temperature difference between the surface and the organs, leading to digestive problems. In severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, with a vicious cycle where the heat is trapped on the surface and you feel even hotter. Ergo, having a hot food like samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup with many nutritious foods to revitalise your health in the summer) warms the organs and allows for better communication between the organs and the skin to effectively overcome the heat.
The philosophy of yiyul-chiyul can be extended beyond the scopes of medicine. Just as the proverb defeat savages with savages (yiyi-jeyi, 이이제이, 以夷制夷) says, one can control a certain force by using the same force on it. A great example is backfires. A forest fire tends to be too large in area to be extinguished with water. But if you deliberately start a fire just beyond its trajectory, it will burn everything as it moves towards the forest fire. Eventually the two fires will meet and without any fuel to consume, both will be extinguished.