Food and Mood
HK BioTek Intern
Food is one of the basic necessities for our survival as being the source of energy for us to sustain our body function and health. However, food is also necessary for our psychological well-being. Many of us should have experienced hanger (anger when hungry) or the crave for any comfort food during bad mood for stress relief. One example of the food that people crave during stress or sadness would be junk food like potato chips and ice cream. Indeed, it is scientifically supported that certain food can calm people down but not every food would have the same effect on emotions.
On the other hand, it is suggested that poor nutrition including long-term high intake of sugar from food or beverages would pose negative effects to our mental health by influencing the inflammation level and the brain cells. Apart from that, carbohydrates are also susceptible to bad mood, among which food with high glycemic index could actually lead to some detrimental effects to our mental well-being, such as depression symptoms or anxiety. By lowering down the glucose concentration in our blood, and then triggering the release of some hormones which can result in anxiety symptoms, such as irritability and hunger. One of the hormones released is cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone, negatively affecting both physical and psychological conditions and thus the mood will be affected. Therefore, food definitely plays a role in our mood and mental state.
Types of food resulting in better mood
Polyphenol food group
Polyphenols are a group of plant metabolites found in mainly fruits and vegetables as well as some snacks in our diet. It is found that food as great source of polyphenols would lower the level of cortisol. Apart from lowering such level, polyphenols can also inhibit the activity of certain enzyme which is involved in the activation of cortisol. As a result, the level of active cortisol would be reduced and so as the stress level. Not only that, polyphenols can also suppress the activity of another enzyme which thus lead to an antidepressant effect. One well-known food source of polyphenols is chocolate and it is common that people would link it to happiness or crave for it in hard times.
Food sources of polyphenols
Blueberry, Blackcurrant, Strawberry
Herbs and spices
Cloves*, Peppermint*, Oregano*
Cocoa powder, Milk chocolate
Flaxseed, Chestnut, Hazelnut
*Not significant due to the little amount consumed each time
Apart from the above food items, polyphenols can also be obtained in beverages with lesser amount, such as red wine, grape juice, orange juice, and tea etc. This can also tell why some people love to drink a glass of wine or a cup of tea after a long day of work.
Studies have also shown that the Mediterranean diet can lower the chance of getting some psychological conditions such as depression. Mediterranean diet emphasizes the high consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, moderate consumption of poultry, eggs and dairy products as well as occasional consumption of red meat. From physiological perspective, depressive symptoms can be associated with the dietary inflammation from poor eating habits. Although the mechanisms behind are still not well understood, studies have observed that the depressive symptoms can be relieved by some anti-inflammatory substances. Similar to those substances, Mediterranean diet and polyphenols or other healthy dietary patterns with anti-inflammatory property can possibly relieve the depressive symptoms as well. Therefore, it is important for us to consume nutritious food and establish healthy eating habits. Not only improve our health status but also ensure a good mental state.
Food options for Mediterranean diet
Whole wheat, oat, brown rice, pasta, quinoa, corn, etc.
Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, peppers, cucumber, etc.
Avocado, apple, banana, orange, kiwi, fig, etc.
Chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, clam, shrimp, mussel, etc.
Lentils, hummus, peas, beans, peanuts, etc.
Nuts and seeds
Almond, walnut, cashew, hazelnut, chia seed, etc.
Milk, cheese, Greek yogurt, etc.
Apart from the consumption of the above food, it is also necessary to eat withing our recommended calorie intake instead of eating excessive amount. This applies to the consumption of polyphenol-rich food too. In the meantime, we should also minimize the intake of added sugar, unhealthy oil, refined grains and processed food. In a nutshell, we can see the association between food and our emotions. What is your comfort food and are you craving for them now?
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