mood food

image by Mike Wright

Does food influence how we feel?

Food  for every moodIn a well-known episode of the late American sitcom Friends (the ‘one where Rachel goes back to work’) there is a scene in which Chandler is talking to a guy about advertising and wants to prove his skills. So he picks up a bagel and a doughnut and says, “Bagels and doughnuts…round food for every mood” in a very cheesy, cringe-worthy manner that obviously invites laughter from the audience.

Yes Chandler doesn’t get his coveted advertising job after that OTT performance. And yet he, Chandler (or rather the scriptwriter for that episode) has an undeniably astute point when he touches upon the perceived relationship between food and our different moods. Everyone knows that chocolate, for example, makes us feel good, both physically (it sure tastes good on the tongue!) and emotionally. Food gives our bodies the energy we need to work from day-to-day but its reach does not extend merely to bodily well-being. It exercises a power over our minds too. Depending on what food we eat, it might make us feel cosy and at peace – think chicken soup, a classic comfort food found across numerous world cultures, widely reputed to be a remedy for the common cold or flu. It also makes us feel good emotionally when we are down. What we eat can actually change the chemical alignment of a human brain. Consider the effect that serotonin, an important neurotransmitter of the brain, has on our psyche. Judith Wurtman, in her book The Serotonin Power Diet notes how, “Nature gave us an easy way of harnessing the power of our brain to control our appetite and mood. We don’t need drugs, or supplements, herbs or pills. Just by eating the immense variety of carbs on this earth, we can lose weight, feel better, and maybe make everyone more peaceful.” Or think of that powerful little drug known as caffeine which most people consume weekly to almost gargantuan excess through tea, coffee, chocolate, soda drinks such as coca cola and related confections.

Recent research is proving more and more beyond a doubt (if one had any in the first place) that there is a very real link between how people feel mentally, emotionally (not to mention the most obvious physically), and the food that we consume. A recent article in The Independent - tweeted by The Secularfood Guide a week or two ago on our twitter page – and written by BBC Radio 2 and Daybreak celebrity health expert Dr Hilary Jones, is enlightening in its description of (as Dr Hilary puts it) “the second brain residing in our stomachs”. Now that is quite an image. Our stomach as a second brain, controlling our thinking minds and emotions.

Sometimes we simply don’t appreciate how much our daily life and well-being are shaped by what we eat. Food consumption is so automatic, so second-nature, so unexceptional that we might stuff a Cadbury’s chocolate bar into our mouth or tear into a Gregg’s chargrilled chicken oval bite without even considering what we are doing – in fact we’re usually doing something else while we’re eating. We multi-task while consuming food, such as working on our computers, reading the paper or chatting to work colleagues over lunch and yet this is the subtle brilliance of our ‘second brain’. It feeds off of not our waking, lucid, thinking minds like our ‘first brains’ but rather it school-masters us from a deeper, more primal part of our being – that of basic instincts and urges.

The University of Salford’s “advice & support” section has an entire page for its students called ‘food and mood’ which is all about how one’s diet affects the way a person feels. The website states, “…We can have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing by adding certain mood enhancing foods to our diet and avoiding others that can cause our mood to fluctuate…”

Indeed educational establishments and even businesses, from primary schools and small family companies up to universities and large multi-national corporations, are taking an ever more keen interest in the eating habits of their staff/pupils because they are becoming aware of how food consumption impacts performance. Some food corporations such as the delightfully named, “Mood Food Company”, have placed the idea of what we eat affecting how we feel psychologically at the very heart  of their brand and business idea. In their ‘about’ section, the company website tells us: “We believe if you eat well, you’ll feel well. A good diet is at the heart of all areas of a good mood, including your energy, focus, passion, happiness & relaxation”.

Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of their website and start to think more carefully about what kinds of food we eat on a daily basis and how that might impact our mood. As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat” – and we would hasten to add “either grumpy or cheery”.

So eat wisely and be happy!

Food for every mood!