June 26, 2008

Does Food = Mood?

[By Merry]

They say that you are what you eat. My shape could be described as resembling a big mac (hold the pickles and lettuce).

Food can make you happy. Can food also make you cranky?
A lot of people who are overweight can attest that food can make you (in the short-term) happy. They have developed their full figures because of relying on comfort food (i.e. food that is high in fat) to make them feel better when times are hard.

Just out of curiosity -- why does no one ever try comfort carrots? High on the glycemic index (but not on the glycemic load), carrots are also full of fiber. Plus if you're stressed you can crunch on them and get some of your aggression out. How often have you seen a cranky rabbit?

And obviously eating a lot of sugary foods can make you hyper, just as -- so some people say -- eating all the Thanksgiving turkey can make you sleepy. (According to some experts, all that tryptophan in the turkey can make you sleepy. And all this time you thought it was Aunt Marge's habit of pulling out the grandchild photographs that was making you nod off after the T-day dinner.)

Can it work the other way? Can food actually promote anger?
Some of Britain's most challenging young prisoners are to be given food supplements in a study aimed at curbing violent behavior.

Just think! We could promote world peace (or at least whirled peas) by making sure everyone gets decent meals.

Somehow that sounds waaaay too simple. Yes, if no one ever had to worry about putting food on the table, or making sure their table isn't foreclosed on, then I suppose there would be less anger in the world.

Does food = mood?

In some circumstances this makes sense, but all the time? I'm not sure. I can see food being used for all kinds of cranky and indeed lethal behavior. (The Twinkie Defense springs to mind.) What do you think?


  1. Wow - I just went to the link and was surprised to see that scientists say "increases in consumption of 'junk' food over the past 50 years have contributed to a rise in violence." That seems so weird to me. Junk food makes people violent?

  2. And is it the merely violence caused when people attempt take take aforementioned little debbies away, fatfighter?

    I'm always struck ----as a big believer in the glycemic index way o'eating/choosing carbs----by the carrot.

    Figuratively I mean.

    Not literally.


  3. Very interesting. I would not be surprised if all the chemicals in processed foods do cause a mood alteration, even a long term one. For me, I notice my mood is highly dependent on exercise; but I haven't noticed it with food....I'll have to do some type of ice cream experiment this weekend.

  4. Personally, I don't seem to notice a huge food/mood correlation other than temporary bliss when I'm eating something junky and decadent. And a vague sort of remorse if I indulge in too many junky things.

    But I do know a LOT of people say their mood is influenced by what they eat.

    However, that vitamin supplement to prisoners thing seems silly for a couple of reasons: most studies say WHOLE FOODS are a better source of nutrients and vitamins should be just a back-up. And the whole junk/food premise seems suspect, unless they were really good about factoring out the fact that lower income, less supervision, poorer parenting etc could be responsible for both more violence and more junk food in the home.

    I was too lazy to read the whole thing, so it may be less silly than it sounds.

    Interesting idea though!

  5. When I eat junk food/fast food, I feel great for about a half hour. Then I become this cranky monster that no one wants to be around. I'm also happier and nicer when I'm eating balanced, healthy whole foods.

    So yeah, I think food can affect your mood.

  6. Yes, crapfood and chemicals does alter moods as far as I am concerned.
    I've got nothing to back this up other than we're (okay I am) a great deal healthier, happier, and calmer when we (I) eat actual food. That said, a little crapfood in the mix after a good healthy meal is fine. It's when it is used as a replacement that we get into trouble.

  7. If you think about it, your body pretty much runs according to hormones (hunger is controlled by the hormone grehlin). So if different substances/vitamins can stimulate production of the right (or wrong)hormones, it's probable that food plays a role in mood.

    On a personal note, my mom gave up chocolate (just the bars, not in baked goods) because something about it turned her into a raving lunatic 2 hours later.

  8. Hmmmm...I know I get cranky when I don't eat for a while!
    I have found that eating "cleaner" has improved my mood...don't know if it is a result of the better food, or because I look better, which of course makes me more cheerful. hmmmm....

  9. Damn you for mentioning Big Mac's so early in the morning. I've been craving these little(big)buggers.

  10. My son's behavioral psychologist (don't ask...) has said that junk food and artificial sweeteners/colors account for a very large rise in aggression in children. And just anecdotally speaking, it seems to hold true in our household. So yeah, I believe it.

  11. I think eating junk causes awful behavior and it is interesting you posted this today as my husband and I just cooked up a theory last night about my autistic son's decline in function when we eat out a lot.

    We just got home from two weeks of restaurant food and he is a mess! We will be watching closely to see if he improves now that we are home. I also have a fresh motivation to cook. (at least for the next month!)

  12. Apart from the physical (not feeling well/getting headaches or faintness if I don't eat), I don't think food affects me that much. It's more the company I have while I eat, but also I think it's psychological. I think that if I eat stuff that's bad for me, it's not necessarily going to make my mood bad, unless I'm not exercising and I start to feel like a blob or something, then the fatty food reinforces that and it puts me in a mood. But it's not the fat itself that does that, it's my mind.

    On the other end of things, if I'm in a mood, if I watch the new Pride & Prejudice, I can always come out of it feeling better and more positive. Does anyone else have a movie or book that does that for them? Also, good company can raise my mood (and that's usually over food, so who knows which came first, the chicken or the egg).

  13. Some schools for "problem" children have adopted food sources free of preservatives and chemical additives and have seen a positive change in the overall behavior of the kids. If you watch the movie "supersize me", you'll see that Morgan Spurlock talks about feeling depressed after a while. I think food has a mood altering effect. We might not be consicous of it and blame sluggishness or a sudden dive in our good mood to other things when food might actually play a role. Who knows. I do agree that whole foods is a much better way to go about it than vitamin supplements...

  14. I know from personal experience that all the hormones put into meat and dairy has a direct effect on the female hormones.
    (Guys, skip the rest of this comment, okay?)
    Switching to organic beef (grain fed, no antibiotics) for a month cut the level of pain from cramps in half. It really was a dramatic difference in such a short period (excuse the pun) of time, and it's left me convinced that food with 'stuff' in it ain't good for us.

  15. It wouldn't surprise me if food = mood, especially with all the chemicals we eat these days. I usually go for the chocolate when I'm feeling down and the sugar hits my seretonin levels and I feel all happy again. Then again, exercise does the same thing ...

  16. Mizfit, the idea of the glycemic index seemed clear to me, but then they went and threw in the glycemic load of a food as well. I think they did that just to confuse me.
    If you click on the link in the post (about carrots) it talks about the glycemic load of carrots.

  17. I hate buying something at the grocery store and then coming home and reading the long list of ingredients, most of which are chemicals I can't even pronounce.

  18. OK....hand over the chocolate & no one will get hurt...at least for the next 15 minutes.

    Chocolate & sweets usually make me feel better for a little while, but then the feeling fades, and alas, my ass is wider!

  19. I believe food has a big influence on mood & overall health, I've definitely seen it with my own diet.

    When I worked at a health food store, people would come in for supplements to "calm down" their ADD/ADHD children, but when I would ask them what the kids ate, the foods were horrible. Artificial processed everything, nitrates, sugar, caffeine, not enough quality protein (hot dogs and bologna don't count). I would clue them in as gently as possible that the diet changes would do far more good than the pills they wanted, and that the pills may do no good at all without better nutrition. Some took it to heart and changed, some didn't.

    The story is about the same for the folks who came in for diet pills.


  20. I think that food has a huge impact on mood. Maybe its in part due to the placebo effect, but I KNOW that what I eat can drastically change my mood, energy levels, and overall how I act and feel.

  21. I do think food affects mood. But it can be a slippery slope, what with the Twinkie Defense and all. Plus, how is giving vitamins going to help prisoners if you're still serving them crappy food?
    Sounds to me like the prisons need a Jamie Oliver intervention. He can do for prison food what he did for school food a few years ago.

  22. I freely admit that I don't know enough to extrapolate my experience to others, so with that in mind . . .

    When I'm looking for comfort food, I'm more likely to look for sugar than fat (although both together is even better/worse! Ha!). The temporary "high" I get off the sugar elevates my mood for a while, but I've noticed that the next day I basically have a hangover: I feel depressed, I have a headache, I hate my body, I'm tired, I'm short-tempered, the list goes on.

    It's so dramatic that I actually have to brace myself for it: if I know I had sugar last night, I have to remind myself the next day, "You're only thinking these horrible things because your brain chemicals are off. None of it is true, and it will be better tomorrow."

    (I'm trying to get off the sugar, because that frame of mind? SUCKS BIG TIME.)

  23. Great post! Yes food does affect mood!

  24. well in truth I know that after I eat a good solid diet of fruits and veggies for a few days my mood really does improve... doesn't mean I have figured out how not to cave in to the quick fix of cake.

    have you ever seen the BBC show "You are what you eat?' it's fascinating!

  25. I know food can affect my mood. I also know that I fiend for candy when I am stressed or upset because of its temperary ability to make me feel VERY productive.

    As for the twinkie defense. LOVE the link. Thanks for my random fact for today!

  26. Good post. I am pretty sure that all the chemicals and crap in food can affect the way a person feels.

  27. If you are what you eat, does that make me cheap, quick, and easy?

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    Since I began to eat clean, healthy, real food, I feel better, my moods are better, and I don't get so sleepy in the afternoons.


  28. I would say that sugar affects my mood. I get "high" on it - truly! I get all hyper, giddy, and way too talkative. And then the crash ensues, and I don't feel like doing anything or talking to anyone! Kinda scary actually.

    I don't notice such drastic mood changes with other foods, though... thankfully!

  29. Comfort food=high fat?? My comfort foods all involve caffeine....

    I don't notice any mood changes from eating (or not eating). This could be because my allergy lifestyle (not just food allergies, but not eating in public places so I don't have to breathe there!) means I rarely eat anything I haven't cooked myself, so there's not much in the way of additives.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  30. Carrot Comfort Food:
    Steam a large carrot or two until soft through.
    Put in blender with a bit of the steaming water, add honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Blend.
    Pour into a bowl, and enjoy...
    (Super yummy, I promise.)

    I don't know about curbing anger, but food can sure put me in a bad mood. I ate too much licorice last night, and - hello! - sugar crash this morning. Just call me Grumpy. Actually, don't call me anything. I might bite your head off.

  31. Well, I don't know about food affecting MY mood, but Blogger appears to have eaten my earlier comment and I really hope it gets serious indigestion (either that, or I only THOUGHT I commented...sigh.)

  32. Nice post about how food is related to mood. People can really find the difference of their behavior when they had junk food or light(veg.) food. Not only food, physical exercise will also make people feel enthusiastic and energetic all the day. If they skipped it, things would go bad to worse...

  33. Great post. So true. I know sugar affects my moods and my kids moods. Haven't figured out how to get rid of all of it though.

  34. Robert, The Tanning GuyJune 28, 2008 at 5:58 PM

    I can see the relation to mood=food, when i eat chocolate i instantly feel better, in fact when i am in a bad mood or had a hard day, chocolate is a great way to change my mood. Ice cream also works great for me too! However, i have noticed that without these foods, when i am trying to get in great shape and cant eat them as often a i would like, my mood is not so charming, and sometimes on the grumpy side, mood=food? yes i believe it.

  35. Interesting article. The chemicals in exercise can certainly make us feel better. I think food can have an effect on how we feel due to energy & sugar levels, however i'm suprised it would alter our state to the extent of lowering anger levels significantly. maybe a slight decrease in anxiety perhaps.

  36. I definitely believe food affects mood. I've noticed that when I eat good fats especially sushi with lots of raw fish, I'm happier, calmer and generally more pleasant than before eating the sushi. This has happened many many times so I'm pretty sure it's food that does it. Other times when I'm really craving something, and I eat what I've been craving for, it gives me a good mood boost for hours, especially if the food I'm craving is a healthy food such as sweet potatoes or edamame. I never give in to a craving for "bad" foods such as cakes or chocolate.

    However, when I eat one kind of food too much, after eating it I get depressed and empty. That tells me I need to switch it up a little.

  37. Hi Merry! Great post -- I just wanted to let you know that I linked to it on our blog, A Grain A Day, at www.jakekulju.com/agrainaday.

  38. .when i'm not in good mood, i usually buy milk bar from our canteen. i learned from our class that sweets can increase serotonin in our brain. haha. it really can, temporarily, but it gained my weight. LOL

  39. please!!! does anyone want to my lab report on food and mood?

    greatly appreaciated!!

    or give me answers!


  40. Kind of late to the party, but what a great topic!

    For myself, food definitely does = mood. The "cleaner" I eat, the better I feel. I've no doubt that sugar levels, chemicals and the like have a lot to do with it, but for myself I reckon a lot is psychological/emotional.

    After dieting for many years, I've come to view food very emotionally. So the good, clean, low-cal, healthy food = virtue and self-respect. And eating bad, processed, diet-unfriendly food = guilt and shame.

    The Catholic background probably isn't helping too much either. ;)


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