Food and Mood
Imagine you’ve been craving chocolate all day, and finally, after a busy day of work, you treat yourself to a sugary dessert. You instantly feel better.
According to multiple studies, sugar “releases opioids and dopamine and thus might be expected to have addictive potential” (1). These studies have associated sugar consumption to psychological changes in mood (2). And it doesn’t stop with just sugar; all types of food can heavily affect our mood (and vice versa!) via our microbiome, body positivity diets, and productivity & motivation.
Emerging studies on the gut-brain axis highlight the significance of gut bacteria in improving our mental health. For instance, many studies have supported the “link between a dysbiotic microbiota and depression” (3). Therefore, the gut microbiome has been pegged as “a new antidepressant target,” referred to as ‘psychobiotics’ (4).
Psychobiotics contain a mix of various Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species (4), which have demonstrated the ability to “improve mood” and “reduce anxiety” (4). Studies conducting psychobiotic treatments have shown that probiotic-treated participants exhibited “substantially reduced reactivity to sad mood (assessed by the Leiden Index of Depression Sensitivity Scale)” and “decrease in urinary free cortisol” which suggests “reduced stress” (5). Thus, the foods we eat to influence our gut microbiome plays a tremendous role in controlling our mental health.
Body Positivity Diet
In addition to food affecting mood, mood can also affect your relationship with food and vice versa.
It is well understood that strict dieting isn't necessarily feasible for long-term weight loss. For sustainability, what you eat, your eating behaviours and how you internalize those behaviours are crucial. Food and mood are remarkably bidirectional in this regard.
For instance, a study on a weight-loss vs weight-neutral dieting approach highlights the bidirectional relationship of food and mood. Not only did it find notable physical health benefits of a weight-neutral diet, but it also found that this approach nurtured body positivity. Ranging from “size acceptance” to “intuitive eating,” (6) the weight-neutral approach provided a quality alternative to strict dieting that can also help improve bulimia nervosa (7). Therefore, the study reveals that food and mood are interrelated, and that body positivity is a critical theme between the two.
Productivity & Motivation
Eating certain foods have proven effective in improving mental acuity and motivation. Although not an exact science, this suggests the possibility of negating slumps in productivity by eating the right mix of foods in your daily life.
For example, in a study of 500+ college students, eating more fruits and vegetables for breakfast was linked to higher levels of happiness (based on a happiness rating scale) (8). Another study found that young adults exhibited “significant short-term improvements” on their psychological well-being, including “curiosity, creativity, motivation”, after increasing fruit and vegetable consumption (9). Through such studies, we’ve come to understand that food plays a major role in scientifically uplifting overall mood, productivity and motivation.
Although not a perfect, independent case of a cause and effect relationship, there is no doubt that food and mood are related. Perhaps, the next time you are feeling a little blue, try thinking about your food choices to navigate your way around understanding your moods.
Author: Haekyeung Kang, BS, Nutrition and Dietetics, NYU, 2017-2021
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