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Culinary Curiosities: Best Foods to Eat While Gambling



Perhaps you’re acquainted with the New Year’s Day tradition of eating greens and black-eyed peas for good luck and money in the coming year. Whether you subscribe to the maxim “eat poor on New Year’s and fat the rest of the year” or whether those greens and peas might summon dollar bills and coins, the link between food and luck is a strong one. Gamblers and professional gamers know it, too. There are plenty of superstitions, but are there foods that could really help you win? What could give you an edge at the gambling table, keeping your mind focused, eyes sharp and stomach from rumbling?

When it comes to eating, it may seem counterintuitive, but it could be better to gamble on an empty stomach. Students participating in a study at Utrecht University in the Netherlands were asked to fast overnight and then participate in the Iowa Gambling Task, a computer-based protocol which emulates real-life decision making. Those who skipped breakfast showed better decision making and long-term reward assessment than those who ate. The findings contradicted the commonly held belief that if you are hungry (or “hangry”) you’ll make poor choices. Instead it seems that this “hot state,” as psychologists call it, could actually get you more in tune with your intuition which, in turn, could make you a better game player.

But what should you eat well before you play or during a quick break to refuel?

Blueberries top the list. Just ask poker player Jamie Gold, who snacked on them during the 2006 World Series of Poker and won the Main Event. They are brimming with antioxidants, particularly flavonoids that can boost brain function, maintain memory and may even encourage neuron repair. A study from the University of Reading in England showed that participants who had a blueberry smoothie in the morning had better cognitive function five hours later than those who had a similar drink without the berries. Get those blueberries in early and you’ll be ready to game later.

Another good choice are avocados. They’re high in fat—77 percent of the fruit’s calories are from fat—but it’s the kind that’s good for you and your brain.  The monounsaturated fats can improve memory and cognitive activity. Avocados have the highest protein and the lowest sugar of any fruit and have a healthy amount of fiber so you feel full longer. The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in the fruit can help keep your eyes sharp so you can focus on your cards.

Fatty and oily fish have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids that are good for memory and mental performance. Our bodies can’t manufacture these essential fatty acids so we need to get them from our diet. If you don’t care for salmon, trout, mackerel and the like, you can get a boost of healthy fats from nuts. But watch the portion size because nuts are high in calories. And avoid nuts with a lot of additional salt or sugar. Blood sugar spikes and crashes will mess with your concentration.

Broccoli will help cognition and memory and keep your game on point.  Munching on this deep green vegetable will give you a good dose of choline, a nutrient needed to make acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that plays a vital part in systems that moderate muscle control, memory, and attention. Don’t give anything away with an unplanned twitch or shaky hands!

If broccoli doesn’t tempt you, consider some dark chocolate. Be sure to get good quality chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa. Not only will you get a mild dose of caffeine to make you more alert, but the magnesium will boost production of endorphins like serotonin, which will lift your mood and destress you when the game isn’t going your way. Drinking hot chocolate could be even better. A study found that flavonoid antioxidants found in some cocoa powders improved learning, memory and mood in those who drank it regularly.

So, that bedtime hot chocolate or breakfast blueberry-avocado smoothie has held you in good stead and you’ve come up a winner. Now to celebrate! What should you eat? Head to the buffet and satisfy your craving for prime rib, lobster, or fried shrimp. Eat whatever makes you feel good.  You’ve earned it.

And what if, despite the steamed broccoli and pecan-crusted salmon, you’re not a winner? What foods can ease your loss?  Same as above. Plus chocolate cake. 

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