First of all let us ask ourselves, what is personality? Primarily the way we think and behave and this would include our intelligence and emotional quotients. A good body and a good mind often go together. The development of the brain in the human being begins during the third week of pregnancy and goes on to develop to 90 percent of its adult volume by age 6.
Apart from the environmental inputs which have lasting effects on a person’s personality, good nutrition, balanced in both macro and micro nutrients is of vital importance. When we talk about the cognitive abilities of a person, we refer to the attention, memory, thinking, learning and perception of that person. All of these in the years to come, go on to shape the skills and the general abilities of a person and have a direct relationship with a person’s achievements, including access to better literacy, lifestyle, self esteem and self control.
As we go on to grow through our lives, the food we eat; in other words nutrition, among other factors, go on to play an important role in our personality.
Broadly speaking a protein rich diet helps build muscles and stamina and a diet rich in carbohydrates creates a calming effect. In addition and equally important are the micro nutrients in our diet. Based on several studies it has been established we need 0.8 grams of protein per day per kilo of body weight if we have an average lifestyle. Carbohydrates in addition to having a calming effect, provide energy and the usual recommended for healthy eating, is 225 to 325 grams per day, again for the average person. The intake of both should be higher if one is involved in intensive manual or mental work since we burn more calories or less depending upon our style of living. Yes, despite the bad name they have earned carbohydrates are an essential part of nutrition. During digestion, sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars and they then find their way into the bloodstream and we know them as blood sugars. From there the glucose enters our body’s cells with the help of insulin. So whether it’s exercise or something as simple as moving the hand or even breathing, it provides the energy for all the activities we do. Too much of it and it is converted to fat. At the same time, not all carbohydrates are equal. It’s always recommended that those having a sedentary lifestyle choose carbohydrates that are rich in dietary fiber.
Studies on micro nutrients have yielded good results and the importance of these on human behavior or personality must be underlined, as well.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is well known. He talked about the healing power of food and further went on to say “Let food be your medicine and your medicine be your food”.
Let us here take some of the foods and their major micro nutrients and examine the impact on our behavior or personality.
Lack of, Vitamin B1 also known as Thiamine, has a potent reaction on our moods. Fish, pork, sunflower seeds, nuts, asparagus, soya beans and most of the regular humble beans are a rich source of this essential micronutrient.
Food rich in Folic acid
Many people across the world suffer from deficiency of Iron. The result is a depressive feeling and laziness. My grandmother used to insist I eat liver, something most of us hate and she had a good reason. Liver is one of the richest sources of Iron. Some of the other good sources are broccoli, seafood, greens, nuts and meat.
Although not common, Folic acid deficiency is associated with depression and normal brain function. Some of the foods rich in this nutrient are dark leafy greens, liver, eggs, kidneys, nuts, sprouts and oranges.
Let us also examine some of the other foods containing important nutrients and their effect on us.
We have all heard about the benefits of Serotonin. While a diet rich in protein is good for muscle building and stamina, it inhibits the circulation of Serotonin in the brain. Increased levels of Serotonin are linked to mood elevation, it helps regulate sleep so one does not get cranky due to sleep deprivation, it helps regulate appetite, helps during premenstrual trauma and helps keep control on impulsive behavior. Serotonin is produced from tryptophan contained in foods such as clams, octopus, snails, banana pineapple, plums, nuts, milk, turkey and eggs. A diet rich in carbohydrates helps towards synthesis of Serotonin into the blood stream. You may have read about a carbohydrate rich diet being recommended to relieve depression. This is not carbohydrates per se but also the help they offer towards absorption of Serotonin, apart from being energy giving.
Coffee is a stimulant
Caffine that we consume in the form of coffee has stimulant effects and increases alertness and thus the time we take to react to situations. Though too much of it is not recommended since too much coffee can make a person nervous and anxious.
Omega 3 mostly contained in sea foods, fish and vegetarian foods such as zucchini has a direct impact on moods and depression if the levels fall too low, studies have gone on to prove (http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2006/Pages/omega-3-study.aspx).
Chocolate is a powerful mood enhancer due to its taste and psychoactive chemicals such as Anandamines. There’s surely no need to overdo it and feel guilty. Just a cube of dark chocolate goes some way in creating a feeling of goodness.
Foods also have a psychological impact. For example some people are affected by even decaffeinated coffee and feel more alert and there are others who will ruin their sleep if they have a cup of coffee after a certain time, just thinking about it. The foods we ate as children during particularly happy times bring back a feeling of happiness even when we eat them as adults.
People should to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day
Some countries give a particular importance to eating habits. On my visit to France and Belgium, I found it interesting that just before the movie begins in auditoriums they show a slide or an animated film urging people to eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Kids are even taught at kindergarten level and it has always been a pleasing experience when I watch the young university students in these countries, there must be more of course, buying their foods in the supermarkets with care, and they usually include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and seafood in their trolleys and baskets.