Eat well, feel well: The interesting connection between mood and food!

The interesting connection between mood and food
by Dr Eirini Manthou, BSc, MSc, PhD


  • How mood regulates food

One thing that determines our enjoyment in life is mood. Mood changes from day to day and from time to time. We may be happy, energized, have optimistic feelings, take part in enjoyable activities, feel loving. But then again there are times we feel unpleasant, moody, irritable, anxious, tired and even depressed. To a certain extend we have all come across these feelings that impact enormously our psychological and physical wellbeing and our every day lives. However, as people tend to be in favor of positivity and happiness we try to self-regulate our bad moods by engaging in certain activities and routines. Activities can include anything from eating to exercising, smoking, drinking, socializing, playing games, watching TV etc.

According to research data at least one third of us turn to food when we are in bad moods at least from time to time. Just stop reading and try to think if this happens to you. When are you most prone to do some bad choices, to break the rules of a diet and to choose some kind of “comfort food”? This actually can happen when we are happy- for example when we are socializing and we combine food with nice company. But the time we are most vulnerable to overeating and bad food choices is when we are in bad moods. “Emotional eating” happens when bad moods are too heavy to carry and a shelter is needed desperately, something that in the past made us feel good. This behavior creates a vicious circle where we first search for a mood fix, then we get a food fix as the easiest solution and momentarily we feel ok. However, the drastic changes in blood glucose can cause mood swings thus after a while we easily slip into a tiredness and remorse mode and the circle begins again. Unfortunately, the effort to regulate mood through “emotional eating” is the most important cause of overweight and in the long term if this circle is not broken we end up with chronic metabolic diseases.


  • How food regulates mood

The other side of the coin is that different foods affect our moods and scientific evidence is very promising in this quite new direction of research. So is that a piece of chocolate can make us smile or can a cup of tea pass positive energy to the drinker? Science now possesses a huge list of food items and ingredients with at least some supporting information for their positive effects on memory, cognitive performance, brain health, mood, sleep and keeping awake, long endurance, jet lag and prevention of cognitive decline. Those that are shown to be the most promising include polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), vitamins and minerals, phospholipids, some botanicals and others. Some are already marketed in herbal medicines and supplements; others in functional foods. Moreover, it is proven that brain chemicals (a.k.a neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine that influence the way we think, feel and behave, can be affected by what we have eaten. Foods that have the capacity to influence the neurotransmitters are brown rice, sesame seeds, fish, eggs, bananas, spinach and many more. A lot of scientific research has identified early that maintaining steady blood glucose by eating small and regular meals throughout the day is the ultimate weapon against mood fluctuations. Generally, keeping food consumption in moderation and good programming while making smart choices of ingredients, can guarantee your emotional wellbeing.


Having this evidence in mind the new trend in gastronomy cannot be perceived as excessively sophisticated. Named restaurants around the world are now serving food according to the mood somebody wants to achieve. According to that you can order food that defies your depressive mood or drink refreshments that make you feel energized. Furthermore, new diet patterns have emerged through the scientific community that can make us happier with our outer in inner selves. If we want to draw a conclusion over the connection between mood and food, clearly it is far smarter to regulate your mood through your food rather than letting your mood regulate your food intake.


  • References

Robert E. Thayer. Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise. ISBN-10: 0195131894, 2001.
Benton D. Carbohydrate ingestion, blood glucose and mood. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 26(3):293-308, 2002.


Robin B. Kanarek, Harris R. Lieberman. Diet, Brain, Behavior: Practical Implications. ISBN-13: 9781439821565, 2011.


Acumentia. Cognitive Functional Foods – What can we expect to see on the market? Spring 2011

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