What is ‘Comfort Food’ – and Why Do We Crave it?

John Egan September 20, 2018 Nutrition Email Print Twitter Pinterest Facebook

Think for a moment about what your favorite “comfort food” is. Vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup? Mashed potatoes slathered with gravy? A slice of piping-hot pizza?

While your go-to comfort food probably differs from your spouse’s or your children’s, pretty much everyone has at least one beloved item on their comfort-food menu.

But why is it that we crave comfort foods? Why does that warmed-up chocolate chip cookie or crispy piece of fried chicken bring us comfort?

“Comfort foods are so comforting because they provide psychological comfort,” certified nutritionist Brian Bender says.

Oftentimes, these foods remind us of fond memories or occasions — birthdays and holidays, for example — connected to friends or relatives, according to Bender.

What is comfort food?

An article published in 2017 in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science defines comfort foods as those foods providing “consolation or a feeling of well-being,” especially emotional comfort that’s heightened by our senses of taste, touch and smell. Comfort foods are more likely to be sweet or salty than sour or bitter, the article adds. According to the article, comfort foods tend to be associated with our childhood or with home cooking, and they’re frequently prepared in a “simple or traditional style.”

Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo, says comfort foods hold particular appeal when we’re feeling lonely or rejected, and might even help combat those feelings. Research presented in 2013 at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior even suggests that exposure to stress in our very early childhood increases stress and anxiety in adulthood, along with consumption of comfort foods.

However, the article appearing in the International Journal of Gastronomy notes that the reasons for gobbling up comfort foods aren’t necessarily the same between women and men. Guilt, depression and loneliness are the main drivers for women, the article says, while men typically use comfort food as a “reward for success.”

But when seeking out comfort foods, for whatever reason, are we really seeing any positive effects?

Citing several studies, the article in the Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science indicates we eat comfort foods to shift our emotional state from negative to positive. A study by Gabriel and research colleague Jordan Troisi suggests that comfort foods such as chicken soup fulfill our need to “belong.”

“Comfort food seems to be something people associate very significantly with close relationships,” Troisi told Time magazine in 2015. “This probably comes about by individuals coming to associate a particular food item with members of their family, social gatherings and people taking care of them, which is why we see a lot of comfort foods traditional meals or things at a party.”

Still, the mood-lifting properties of comfort foods might not be significant. A study published in 2014 in the American Psychological Association journal Healthy Psychology found that in tests of two groups of people, comfort foods led to “significant” mood improvement, but this improvement was not measurably different when compared with other foods or no food at all.

“Individuals may be giving comfort food ‘credit’ for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food,” the study says.

Even more troubling than the questionable effects of comfort foods on our mood is the dietary effects. Bender, the nutritionist, points out that many of these foods are loaded with fat and sugar and, therefore, can be unhealthy — especially if we overindulge.

“Although comfort food will never break your heart,” Gabriel says in a news release, “it might destroy your diet.”

It’s worth noting, though, that some people identify fruits and vegetables as comfort foods, meaning not everyone’s diet is necessarily in jeopardy.

“Certainly, the clichéd notion that comfort foods tend to be calorie-dense is not always correct,” the article in the Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science says.

Bender says some of the potential dietary harm of comfort foods can be minimized by swapping unhealthy ingredients for healthier ingredients “that don’t radically change the overall taste or texture of the dining experience, and thus remove the psychological connection of that food.”

One example of a healthier option for comfort food is these no-bake, no-sugar brownies. Or how about this recipe for vegan strawberry-coconut ice cream? And what about this diet-friendly alternative to traditional mac and cheese?

Bender says his preferred comfort food is bread. However, since breads made with refined grains should be eaten in moderation, he switches to breads made with whole grains. This bumps up the fiber and nutrients, he says, yet these breads are “still delicious and comforting.”

Also, comfort can be brought about by something other than food. In a 2015 article published by The Atlantic, the University of Buffalo’s Gabriel said re-reading a favorite book or watching a favorite TV show could trigger the same soothing sense that a comfort food might. In other words, turning on the TV might enable you to turn off the desire for comfort food.

John Egan

A resident of Austin, Texas, since 1999, John Egan has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, brand journalism, blogging, communications and public relations. Aside from Vitacost, John writes for Credit Karma, LendingTree, CultureMap Austin, Muck Rack and other outlets. From 1999 to 2006, John was editor and managing editor of the Austin Business Journal. John’s interests include sports, movies, music, travel and dining out. A native of Kansas, John earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University.

A resident of Austin, Texas, since 1999, John Egan has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, brand journalism, blogging, communications and public relations. Aside from Vitacost, John writes for Credit Karma, LendingTree, CultureMap Austin, Muck Rack and other outlets. From 1999 to 2006, John was editor and managing editor of the Austin Business Journal. John’s interests include sports, movies, music, travel and dining out. A native of Kansas, John earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University.

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Your Gut Talks to Your Brain

Giovanni Cizza, MD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, MD, co-authored an accompanying editorial. “We did not know if you put fat in the stomach without pleasant stimulus, it could modulate our emotions,” he says. “There must be a way in which the gut talks to the brain.”

The research may lead to new drug developments if researchers can home in on an appropriate target in the gut.

Louis Aronne, MD, founder and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says the findings are a major step forward to our understanding of some of the physical underpinnings of the relationship between food and mood.

“The areas of the brain that get activated or suppressed as a result of emotion and mood were impacted by fatty acid emulsion,” he says. “These fats reduced some of the emotion or neural changes, and this is a phenomenon that many patients have described.”

“Many things in obesity have been said to be psychological and this adds to the body of evidence that something physical is going on,” he says.

The new study looked at non-obese individuals, and the effects may be even more pronounced in obese or overweight people, he says.

“People who are obese may have to eat more to get the same stimulation as normal-weight individuals,” he says.

Can food make people happy?

There’s a big difference between foods that contain compounds that can physically affect your brain chemistry and foods that just make us feel good. Foods in the latter group are called comfort foods. While foods that produce physical happiness affect our physiology, comfort foods provide happiness on a psychological level. When you’re down in the dumps, however, you probably won’t care about the distinction, as long as you feel better.

Psychological studies have turned up evidence that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts . We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. Comfort foods can also be linked to specific people in our lives: Eating a specific food that a loved one favored can produce happy thoughts by triggering fond memories or associations of that person . This makes comfort foods fairly unique to each individual. If your childhood birthday parties represented the pinnacle of happiness for you, you’d likely crave birthday cake or some variation of the dessert when you’re blue.

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Although comfort foods (or the events attached to them) vary from person to person, the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions vary by gender. A 2005 Cornell University survey of 277 men and women found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak and soup . The study also found that men tend to use comfort foods as a reward, while women often feel guilty after indulging.

Interestingly enough, the females’ guilt may signal an evolutionary leg up over males. Regular comfort eating as a response to stress — especially chronic stress — is considered an unhealthy behavior akin to smoking cigarettes. Why? Because comfort foods are often low on nutrition. One 2007 study found that when given both grapes and hot buttered, salty popcorn to eat while watching a sad movie, the participants ate far more popcorn .

Read the next page to learn about how some foods may help you fight against depression, and how eating less can also make you happy.

You know the drill: Eat less sugar and you’ll be less fat. Eat more protein and your muscles will be fuller and firmer. Eat more bean-curd salads and you’ll probably beg someone to stop serving you bean-curd salads.

But here’s the truth: The right kinds of healthy foods, in the right proportions, will certainly go a long way toward to fueling your body up, gaining more energy, and recovering from tough workouts.

“There’s more going on below the surface to healthy eating than most people realize,” says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., adjunct professor at the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University and author of The Wrinkle Cure. “It all comes down to how your body responds to the foods you’re taking in.”

The Best Foods for Football Players to Build Strength and Maintain Muscle >>>

What the good doctor is talking about is inflammation. Not mere redness and swelling, but subclinical inflammation, which can’t be seen by the naked eye. Inflammation exists throughout your body in various degrees, and is influenced by external factors such as the food you eat and the air you breathe. For example, researchers at the University of Buffalo have found that eating large quantities of sugar and fats—junk food, in other words—an increased concentration of free radicals in your bloodstream, which creates inflammation in the body.

Perricone, who has given several lectures about inflammation on PBS, is world-renowned for creating nutritional plans designed to help the body counteract these inflammatory responses. His clients have become stronger, leaner and healthier by following his advice.

Perricone has given Men’s Fitness five ways to help you look younger, lose fat and feel better through avoiding inflammation.

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1. LOOK 10 YEARS YOUNGER

The goal:

Cut back on your sugar intake.

The challenge:

Most people don’t realize the toll sugar takes on their appearance. “Sugar is responsible for nearly half of all skin aging, because it inhibits the effectiveness of collagen within your skin cells,” says Perricone. Excess sugar in your system binds with collagen, causing a chemical change called glycosylation. Ideally, collagen molecules slide easily over each other, giving the skin a soft, elastic look. After being attacked by sugar, the collagen fibers become cross-linked and stick to each other, resulting in sagging and wrinkled skin. Glycosylation can also cause age spots and discolored marks on the skin by overworking melanocytes, the cells that provide pigment.

The plan:

Avoiding sweets is a must, but identifying hidden forms of sugar is even more important. “Try to stay away from foods that are higher on the glycemic index, such as corn, bananas, potatoes and peas,” says Perricone. Instead, eat more foods that are low on the glycemic index, such as kiwi, blueberries, peaches, leafy greens, broccoli and spinach. “These types of fruits and vegetables deliver sugar into your system at a slower rate, since they’re also packed with fiber. They’re also rich in antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals and reduce inflammation in the skin. Left unchecked, can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, a weakened immune system and other health issues.”

Perricone green-lights the regular use of topical anti-inflammatories such as alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin C ester to increase elasticity in the skin. Antioxidant creams can be found at health-food stores such as Whole Foods. If creams aren’t your thing, try taking 100 milligrams of alpha-lipoic acid in tablet form (available in most health-food stores) twice daily. “This anti-inflammatory antioxidant also inhibits the attachment of sugar to protein, minimizing the amount of damage sugar can do to your skin,” says Perricone.

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2. SHED YOUR STRESS

The Goal:

Switch from coffee to tea

All those high-priced lattes not only subtract cash from your wallet, but all that milk, cream and sugar can deposit a Venti-sized amount of calories around your midsection. Moreover, a single cup of coffee raises cortisol levels for 12 to 14 hours. Cortisol, a hormone pumped out by the body at times of stress, is necessary for survival, but when cortisol levels are chronically elevated, you’re asking for all sorts of trouble beyond fat deposition.

“Too much cortisol in the system is toxic to brain cells, thins your skin, decalcifies your bones, and suppresses your immune system,” explains Perricone. Cortisol also kicks up insulin levels by raising your blood sugar, encouraging the storage of excess calories as fat. “Making the switch has been proven to show an average weight loss of up to eight pounds in just six weeks,” says Perricone—and that’s if no other change, such as beginning a workout program, is implemented during the same period.

The plan

Actually, caffeine is not the culprit, but rather the organic acids found in coffee that cause cortisol levels to skyrocket. Switching to tea, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, can curtail cortisol release and insulin spike while keeping you healthy minus the withdrawal symptoms.

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3. GET LEAN FASTER

Limit your intake of processed carbs.

Eliminating carbs may be a trendy way to lose weight, but it also severely limits the amount of insulin your body releases, which will stunt muscle growth. “In normal proportions, insulin is just as important for triggering the metabolic functions that encourage muscle growth as testosterone is,” says Perricone.
Hence, you don’t need to expel carbs from your dietary curriculum—they’re crucial, in fact. Simply avoid the high-glycemic types that promote insulin secretion.

Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables with glycemic ratings below 50. Cucumbers, plums, pears and peppers are good choices. (For a comprehensive list, go to www.glycemicindex.com.) “These types of foods can give your body enough of an insulin response to have an anabolic effect on the muscles without storing excess body fat,” says Perricone.

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4. MAINTAIN ENERGY ALL DAY, EVERY DAY

Eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three big ones.

Throwing down a large, high-calorie meal raises your glucose levels drastically, causing an increase of free radicals in the bloodstream that can last up to three or four hours. “For your body, this means an inflammatory burst that can affect your serum levels and increase your risk of developing heart disease, among other health problems,” says Perricone.

Breaking up those three meals into five throughout the day keeps your blood-sugar levels stable and produces an even flow of energy. But allowing yourself to snack between sit-downs doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules of nutritional balance. “Most guys throw out any semblance of smart eating when they eat between their main meals,” says Perricone. “Every snack should always include three things: a good source of lean protein, low-glycemic carbohydrates in the form of fruits or vegetables, and an essential fatty acid like olive oil or fresh, unsalted nuts.”

Eat what you would usually reach for, and figure out whether it’s composed primarily of a protein, carbs or fat. Then balance it with the other two macronutrients, even if it’s just a bite of each. For instance, if you like munching on slices of smoked turkey, add a few celery sticks and a handful of olives. If pears and apples are your thing, combine them with a few grilled shrimp and some almonds.

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5. BEAT THE BLUES

Avoiding harmful oils.

Certain types of artificial fatty acids, notably partially hydrogenated oils, have to first be altered by your body by an essential enzyme called delta-6 desaturates. Never mind the arcane tech stuff, here’s what you need to know: It’s this very process that triggers inflammation throughout your body. But avoiding oils altogether can have a negative impact on the matter between your ears. “Having little to no fat in the diet has been shown to cause clinical depression,” says Perricone. “The brain has to have enough fatty acids in order to function properly.”

If you’re more concerned with your waistline than your cranium, you can put your mind—and belly—at ease. “As odd as it may sound, you can actually lose body fat by eating the right kinds of fat,” says Perricone. “Without enough essential fatty acids in your system, your body tends to retain the very body fat you’re hoping to lose.”

Perricone recommends always using olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, instead of vegetable oil, which is a polyunsaturated fat that can make your body more susceptible to free-radical damage. “Olive oil also contains oleic acid—an omega-9 fatty acid—that makes it easier for your body to utilize fatty acids on a cellular level instead of converting them first.”

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For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.

BRAIN CHEMISTRY AND ANOREXIA. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.milestonesprogram.org/brain-chemistry-and-anorexia
How eating disorders affect the neurobiology of the brain. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from https://www.emilyprogram.com/blog/how-eating-disorders-affect-the-neurobiology-of-the-brain
Avena, N. M., & Bocarsly, M. E. (2012, July). Dysregulation of Brain Reward Systems in Eating Disorders: Neurochemical Information from Animal Models of Binge Eating, Bulimia Nervosa, and Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3366171/

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 13, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 13, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

Why do people feel tired after eating?

Feeling tired, or having difficulty concentrating, after a meal is relatively common. A person may feel particularly tired, depending on what, when, and how much they ate.

Below, we discuss some reasons why a person might feel tired after a meal, and how to prevent it.

The type of food you eat

Share on PinterestMeals containing both carbohydrates and protein can make a person feel tired.

Foods rich in protein and carbohydrates can make people feel sleepier than other foods.

Some researchers believe that a person feels tired after eating because their body is producing more serotonin.

Serotonin is a chemical that plays a role in regulating mood and sleep cycles.

An amino acid called tryptophan, which occurs in many protein-rich foods, helps the body produce serotonin. Carbohydrates help the body absorb tryptophan.

For these reasons, eating a meal rich in both protein and carbohydrates may make a person feel sleepy.

Tryptophan occurs in foods that are rich in protein. These include:

  • salmon
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • seeds
  • milk
  • soy products
  • cheese

Foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates include:

  • pasta
  • rice
  • white bread and crackers
  • cakes, cookies, donuts, and muffins
  • corn cobs
  • milk
  • sugar and candy

People often eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates before bed, such as cereal with milk.

How much food you eat

A person may be likelier to experience postprandial somnolence after a large meal.

People who eat larger lunches may experience more of an afternoon slump than those who eat less at midday. Eating causes blood sugar to rise, and a dip in energy may follow.

Other factors can contribute to tiredness after eating:

  • poor sleep at night, which can lead to tiredness throughout the day
  • drinking alcohol with a meal, especially during the daytime

When you eat meals

A person’s natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, can affect how they feel after eating.

The National Sleep Foundation report that people naturally have a lull in energy 2 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. This may explain the tradition of taking a nap, or siesta, after the midday meal.

Daylight and darkness are essential in regulating the circadian rhythm, but the timing of meals may also have an effect.

You’re driving home after a long day at work. You’re in no mood to cook and you stop at a drive-through to pick up some dinner. You’re so hungry you don’t even make it home to eat; you just pull into a parking space and devour your cheeseburger or tacos or whatever right there in the driver’s seat. Afterward, you feel a bit bloated and greasy. You might even feel guilty and disgusted with yourself.

Then, there are those other occasions when you take the time to actually make a good and healthy dinner that you enjoy and savor. After those meals, you feel full — and pretty happy.

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Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that food should make us happy? After all, we eat food to sustain ourselves. From the food we eat, we derive macronutrients like proteins, fats and carbohydrates that our bodies use for fuel and other essential functions. We also get vitamins and other nutrients from food that our bodies can’t process but still require. Certainly, we need food, but why would some foods make us happy when we eat them?

The science of happiness has figured out why certain foods make us happy. It turns out that some foods are made of compounds that have been shown to have an effect on our mood. Even more interesting, going without certain foods can have an opposite effect, putting us at a higher risk for depression.

Find out what science has turned up in its exploration of culinary happiness on the following pages. First up, happy foods.

The foods making you feel sad, mad or ‘high on life’

Have you noticed a connection between what you eat and how you feel?

Emerging evidence suggests a link does exist, with a healthy balanced diet, particularly one high in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, seeming to boost mood and even fight depression. Highly processed food or “junk” food also seems linked with lower mood.

After Radio National’s All In The Mind looked at this topic recently, we asked you about your experience of links between food and mood — with some fascinating results.

“If I’ve fallen off the wagon, my tell-tale sign is if I start crying over television ads.” — Kirsten.

“If I eat heaps of steamed veggies for supper, my feeling the next day is so much better. If I eat junk food for supper I feel down in the doldrums.” — Eddie.

You should bear in mind mood is highly subjective, and so our perception of how we feel is easily influenced by beliefs we might hold.

It’s also hard for us to sift out the influence of other factors that might sway how we feel.

It’s worth noting too that most of the studies in this area have monitored effects over longer periods of time — at least weeks or months.

And scientists stressed it’s your diet as a whole that seemed to matter most, rather than homing in on single foods.

Here’s a selection of your feedback, with some expert comments as well.

Sugar

(iStock)

Many of you linked sugar with your mood — particularly processed white sugar.

“If I consume products that contain white sugar it transforms me into an irritable, depressed, totally negative person who thinks life isn’t worth living. Once it wears off around the 24hr mark I’m fine.” — Helen.

“As a rule of thumb I avoid processed foods if I can and sugary things … I am 68 years old, walk and cycle every day and have never had even one day off work through illness in my whole working life.” — Edward.

“I manage it by eating healthy, avoiding sugar and looking on the bright side of life … it is not easy and pleasant at times.” — Terry.

Sarah Dash, who is doing a PhD in food and mood at Deakin University, said the idea increased sugar consumption was linked with low mood did have some science behind it.

Habitual sugar consumption can prevent the lining of our gut from doing its job of stopping harmful substances passing into the body, she said.

When this happens, small molecules can escape from the gut into the bloodstream, causing inflammation.

While our understanding of the processes involved is still developing, “this low level of inflammation is a risk factor for depression”.

“If you have a leaky gut, you can actually induce depression-like behaviours in animals — things like they socially withdraw or don’t want to eat anything,” Ms Dash said.

She added that high and low blood sugar levels could also influence your mood over very short time frames.

But Dr Paul Bertrand, head of the Gut Neuroscience Laboratory at RMIT, was surprised it took Helen 24 hours to feel her ‘sugar low’ wore off.

“Normally we associate sugar with relatively quick effects” — 30 to 60 minutes, he said. A prolonged response could indicate something other than sugar might be to blame.

Dr Bertrand stressed if a person’s feeling depressed or down, diet could be one small part of a larger issue — and that it’s vital to seek medical advice as a first port of call. And dietary change should complement rather than replace antidepressants if they are needed.

Processed foods

(Public domain: Thomas Habr)

Public domain: Thomas Habr

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Another thing many of you noted was a big boost to your mood when you started to avoid processed foods.

“If I’ve eaten foods that contain additives, my brain starts self-talk that results in depression. Even as recently as a few days ago, lying in my bed my brain starts to talk about how no-one likes me; how people don’t treat me well.” — Rob.

“I’m 10 pounds lighter, I’ve been incredibly productive, I’m out of bed and seeing flashes of my old energetic self.” — Weez.

There are so many things in processed foods it’s very hard to pin down if there’s a particular component affecting your mood, Dr Bertrand said.

What has shown to be beneficial, though, is a general shift away from processed foods and towards whole foods in a person’s diet, improving your overall gut health.

“The nerves in your gut directly communicate with the brain,” he said.

“So if the gut’s unhappy, it can be communicated up to your brain and really start to lower your mood.”

Deakin University’s Dr Felice Jacka said there was “very extensive data from animal studies” showing certain unhealthy food components affect the brain directly, with important negative impacts on a region called the hippocampus, involved in many things, including mood regulation.

There is also new evidence that “common emulsifiers in many processed foods have a very noxious impact on the gut” which in turn affects mood.

Gluten

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According to Coeliac Australia, one in 70 people had coeliac disease — meaning they could not consume gluten without risking diarrhoea, nausea, pain, fatigue, and other symptoms.

Others may report a sensitivity to gluten — that it makes them feel unwell — and avoiding gluten has also become a popular health trend.

Some of you linked gluten to anxiety, depression, and bad mood:

“I made food changes and used key nutrients and no longer have any anxiety — unless I’m exposed to certain foods like gluten-containing grains” — Trudy.

“Often I cannot speak as I know I will explode and probably regret what I say — so I choose not to speak if I am having a ‘gluten moment’. Eating gluten also makes me feel like I have a hangover for days.” — Sophie.

The notion that non-coeliacs can be sensitive to gluten is controversial, and Ms Dash said another reason someone who avoids gluten could experience an improved mood is if the shift means they replace processed foods with more whole foods.

Both Ms Dash and Dr Bertrand said those who tended to avoid gluten should be careful about what they were missing out on.

“Not having gluten in your diet because it sounds trendy is not a good idea, because it’s a good source of many nutrients,” Dr Bertrand said.

MSG

(Flickr.com: Daniel Go (CC-BY-NC-2.0))

Flickr.com: Daniel Go (CC-BY-NC-2.0)

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This naturally-occurring amino acid, used as an additive to give foods a stronger savoury flavour, has received its fair share of criticism when it comes to health.

A common belief is that foods heavy in MSG will give someone a headache and flushed skin.

No evidence has been found to prove that connection despite rigorous testing, and both the US and Australia consider MSG a safe food additive.

Rob writes that after he has lots of MSG:

“I have the most weird and exhausting dreams at night. Some are so bad that I have a sense, in my dream, that I want to get out of my dream, and I can wake up in a state of mild terror relieved I survived whatever it was.” — Rob.

While it is impossible to rule out some sort of MSG sensitivity in Rob, Dr Bertrand said it could just as easily be another component of the meal that affects Rob’s dreams — like its fat content, spices, or its overall size.

“I often seem to have crazy bad dreams after a heavy, fatty meal — like a big duck dinner,” Dr Bertrand said.

“It’s delicious, but there’s probably too much fat, causing a bit of an overload, and the gut’s unhappy and tells you about it.”

Mushrooms and chocolate

(Public domain: Paula)

Public domain: Paula

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Dorothy said that for the past 40 years, she has noticed a link between mushrooms and her mood — after eating them, she becomes sad and weepy.

The same thing also happened with white chocolate — so much so that she said if she is ever put in a nursing home, she wanted the staff to be told not to feed her those foods.

“Of course I still indulge on occasions, but weigh up the risk and think — ‘Ok … for those few moments of pleasure I will have two days of sadness!'” — Dorothy.

Dr Bertrand and Ms Dash were at a loss to explain this.

Mushrooms are a good source of fibre — and associated with good health effects, rather than mood change, they said.

“Often mushrooms can make you farty, which is an indication the gut bacteria are digesting them,” Dr Bertrand said. This is generally considered a good thing.

And chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is in good favour in research relating to food and mood because it often has anti-inflammatory properties, Ms Dash said.

Shakes and smoothies

(Flickr.com: Robert Gourley (CC-BY-2.0))

Flickr.com: Robert Gourley (CC-BY-2.0)

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You love your shakes too — especially if they’re green. Samantha combined a shake diet with exercise to feel better, while Jennifer became a convert to smoothies containing fruit with some greens.

“In between shakes, I was eating little tins of flavoured tuna and salmon, nuts and smoothies. I was feeling so alive” — Samantha.

“I kid you not, within three days I was feeling slightly better … by the end of the fortnight I was one of those glowy, ‘high on life’, colours seem brighter, ‘hey you should try this’ converts” — Jennifer.

Both our experts said smoothies and shakes that contained green ingredients and fruits usually had lots of fibre, which is very good for your gut — and thus your mood.

Ms Dash said the shakes and smoothies could be replacing less healthy foods, also helping you to feel better.

But Dr Bertrand said it was good to still have some whole fruit and vegies in your diet, rather than getting them solely in smoothies. Among other reasons, chewing is good for your jaws and teeth.

Eat this it ll make you feel better

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