Have you ever woken up at eight in the morning and realized that you were suppose to be just walking through the door at work, so, you just out of bed, toss on your clothes and instead of grabbing for your breakfast, you grab for your car keys? You get to work and the day is just so busy that you forget to eat lunch, and as the time passes, things are harder to take in and you irritability level rises, yet, for some reason, after you eat a meal, things become easier to handle? Well, this has happened to me, and I set out to find out if others experienced this and why it happens.
What you eat and how you feel have a direct link from each other. Let’s look at coffee for example. When you drink coffee, your mood changes from tired or just plain normal to energized. Alcohol can change your mood into one of pleasure (depending what you drink and how much).
The only question is how!
For the ethnographic project, I hypothesized that eating certain foods can change you mood. To test this hypothesis, I looked to research. I read many books and articles, I sent out e-mails to authors and doctors, and I also sent out a survey to others to see what happened after they ate.
I began by sending out a survey (there is a copy enclosed at the end of the paper).
The survey was sent out to my friends from high school and work (since I am new at UMass, and I really don’t know anyone).
Seven girls and five guys received the survey, all between the ages of eighteen to seventy-one. On the survey I asked questions like “when you drink coffee, how do you feel, or when you miss a meal. How do you feel?” The feedback I got was usually in a simple one-word answer like “good” or “hungry”. This survey flopped. Nothing actually proved or disproved my hypothesis.
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In order to obtain better results, I decided to revises the survey I sent out, but how could it be done without giving away my topic? After much thought, I decided to just give the topic straight out. I asked the same group of people to record on a chart that I sent them, what they ate for a seven-day period. Along with the food intake, I asked them also to write the time they ate, where they were eating, what else they were doing besides eating, and their mood before and after they ate, and how hungry they were on a scale of one to five, five being extremely hungry and one being not very hungry. The only problem I had with this survey was that it was sent out two weeks before the project was due, and during this time period, many of my friends were studying for finals and preparing for the end of the semester, since they are all college students. I received all of the charts from the men, but only three charts from the women.
These results were better. What I observed is that when a person was tired or irritable, and they ate some sort of carbohydrate, their moods went to more energized. When they ate any product with fat, no matter what their original mood, after they ate, they mood changed to content and lagging. They felt “satisfied”. These results proved my hypothesis, that food can change moods, and it went even further in saying that carbohydrates energize while fats slow down body movement. I also noticed that whenever they were bored or were involved in something with little to no movement, they also ate. For example, one of the guys ate a snack every time he was chatting on AOL instant messenger (AIM) and he was always tired when using AIM. Could this be a linked to cravings?
The cause of the mood changes is linked to chemicals in the brain. Foods contain the amino acids trytophan and tyrosine (alternativemedicine.com 1999).
These amino acids produce neurotransmitters (alternativemedicine.com 1999).
These neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine (Somers 1999).
... and helps moods improve (58). Secondly, by dividing our daily food intake into five to six times a ... professor of psychology, states, "The carbohydrates raise the level of tryptophan that is converted to serotonin" ( ... five other amino acids... When protein intake is high, tryptophan is overpowered by the other amino ... affects our heart and bones... what you ate this morning can affect how you perform ...
These neurotransmitters are what control a person’s mood.
Serotonin is greatly linked to a person’s mood. High levels of serotonin boosts your mood, curbs food cravings, increases pain tolerance, and helps with sleep, while low levels cause insomnia, depression, food cravings, increased sensitivity to pain, aggressive behavior, and poor body temperature regulation (Somers 1999).
Carbohydrate rich meals often increase serotonin levels (Columbia University 2000).
Dopamine and norepinephrine in contrast, which is produced from tyrosine, can produce states of high energy. When levels drop, you can become irritable, depressed and moody (Somers 1999).
If it is balanced, you feel alert, ability to cope rises, and mental functioning improves (Somers 1999).
Protein rich food is a good source of tyrosine to produce dopamine and norepinephrine (alternativemedicine.com 1999).
McGill University put out a study, where a researcher there used food, high is carbohydrates and protein, to control depression. “Recovered depressed patients [not on the diet] often undergo an acute relapse, while normal subject (on the diet) show more moderate changed in mood. Totally euthymic subjects [on the diet] show no lowering of mood, but subjects with high normal depression scale [who were not on the diet] scored or subjects with a family history of depression show a moderate lowering of mood” (Young SN 1993).
Although none of the people I surveyed had chocolate, it is one of the “worlds most popular pick-uppers from those experiencing tired, sad, or bad moods” (C.M. 2000).
Chocolate raises serotonin levels, but it also raises endorphin levels (pleasure feeling chemical in the brain), these high levels of endorphins can be bad (Wurtman 1998).
The British mental health charity Mind studied the effects of chocolate on the body. Although it can lift our mood temporarily, it can also make bouts of depression even deeper (C.M. 2000).
“Mind surveyed 550 men and women… nearly one forth of them said sugary foods had the most negative effect on their general medical health and about half of them singled out chocolate. Chocolate improved their minds for only a short time” (C.M. 2000).
“Feed the brain with the right mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins and your mind will be razor sharp and awash in a sea of happy hormones” (New York Times Syndicate 2000).
Depression is a common psychological disorder which is more likely to be experienced by young people. Although this psychological disorder could be manifested in all age range, studies show that individuals who are in their adolescence to early adulthood stage have greater tendency to feel depress (Costell, Swendsen & Rose, 173, 2008). This disorder is often accompanied by feelings of sadness, ...
Although all this information says that foods can change our moods, I e-mailed a professor (Ronald Pies M.D.) at Tufts University. Not telling him that I was doing a project, I asked him a short question: “I’ve heard a lot about food affecting mood. Are there foods that I can eat to improve my mood?” His response was: “Probably not, unless your current diet lacks key nutrients. We all like out comfort foods, but their effect is psychological rather than chemical. While there is little research that shows foods can improve mood, there’s no doubt that a lack in certain vitamins can depress out mood. Studies have shown that people with too little thiamine, foliate, vitamin B-6, or vitamin B-12 in their bodies can become depressed. Therefore, the best way to ward off dietary depression is to eat plenty of green vegetables. The idea that food can affect your mood was popularized in part by Judith Wurtman, author of Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food. Wurtman suggests that people can relieve tension by eating separate meals consisting solely of carbohydrates, such as breads, potatoes, and pasta. Some studies bear them out while other research does not. The bottom line? The best thing you can do nutritionally for your mood is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, and fish, and the occasional chocolate dessert” (Pies 2000).
This idea conflicts much research, is it true? I don’t know that for sure, but a lot of research including my own, disagrees with Dr. Pies.
In the end, my hypothesis proved correct and a lot of back up information also supported my hypothesis. How much of this is true, I don’t know, and in the field I am going into, I won’t find out, but someday, someone out there will prove this theory. Foods can change our moods.